A well-executed content marketing strategy offers a huge amount of benefits which go far beyond increased traffic and lead generation.
If you go through this list of factors indicators, you’ll be able to identify potential weaknesses of your content marketing strategy and optimize its ROI.
A standard advertising campaign will generate lots of views and clicks if you manage to design it properly.
The problem, though, is that once the campaign is over, the pleasant effects will vanish abruptly and you’ll have to start all over with a new campaign.
Content marketing, on the other hand, will drive qualified traffic to your site for a considerable amount of time, through organic search, social media, and backlinks.
Ranking and SEO are two byproducts of content generation (blog posts, white papers, infographics, videos, podcast…) and even if the main goal of a great inbound strategy should be creating value for potential and existing customers, the fact that your efforts are rewarded in the long-term, definitely adds value to your marketing strategy.
When trying to draw up a cost-benefit analysis for your content marketing activities you must consider hard facts and figures which can be used to calculate the ROI of the whole strategy, but they’re also are immaterial factors which you need to account for and which can also be considered long-lasting, positive side-effects.
Your content marketing strategy will help you improve brand awareness and perception and will help you become an authority in a certain area of expertise. Through content, you can define your brand and foster credibility and trustworthiness.
Last but not least, if you implement proper tools within your inbound marketing strategy to establish a dialogue with your audience, you’ll be able to create a great channel for communication, exchange of information, feedback, and for collecting new ideas.
That’s why it’s very important to define what factors are important, and how to measure and optimize different stages of the process in order to be sure that the strategy generates the results we expect.
Different categories of analytics within your content marketing strategy
In order to optimize your content marketing activities, you need to analyze different stages in order to spot weak areas which require some adjustments.
We talked about what factors may cause your content marketing strategy to fail in a previous post. Now we’re going to try and define simple indicators which will help you identify strengths and weaknesses within your content marketing cycle.
With a clear overview of costs and benefits, you can define the current return on investment which you can benchmark with your own forecasts or with values generated by other players in the industry.
Identifying what areas needs to be optimized will allow you to meet or even exceed target values and make sure that the strategy pays off in the long run.
The indicators which we need to consider are divided into four main categories:
- VISIBILITY (Traffic/Consumption/Views)
- PARTICIPATION (on-site and off-site engagement)
- LEAD GENERATION (actions/commitment)
- CONVERSION (sales)
Visibility And Consumption
Creating and publishing new content is the very initial step of your content marketing efforts. As mentioned, this step is enough to improve SEO and ranking of your site, but in order to be effective, your content needs to be shared and attract quality leads.
Apart from sharing your content through an apt social media calendar, you can access numerous resources which allow you to amplify and boost visibility.
The more people are exposed to your content, the more traffic you’ll be able to generate.
But that’s not what we actually want: We don’t need to attract random visitors, we need to attract leads, people who really care for what we say and who can turn into customers.
To be sure that your content is designed to attract the right kind of audience you need to be sure of who your potential customers are, define needs and pains, address their concerns, and solve contingent problems.
In essence: You need to offer information which is valuable to your target group.
To verify your assumptions you can look at specific indicators which you can find in your search engine and social media analytics reports.
The amount of traffic that a particular blog post or another piece of content generates is a measure of the buzz that you managed to generate.
This value is influenced by factors like quality of your headline, structure, layout, introduction, length, simplicity, thoroughness, keywords, and general quality of the content you sure.
Additionally, buzz needs to be generated through social media, syndication, feed submissions and subscriptions and other channels and communities which aggregate and deliver content.
All of these factors can be divided into two categories:
–Intrinsic characteristics of your content
–Distribution channel adopted (quantity and quality)
Great content distributed through proper channels (which are likely to be accessed by your target group) will generate a great number of clicks.
Assessing the quality of your digital traffic
In order to establish who actually consumes your content, you can look into different parameters which we’re going to try and analyze individually.
And when you deal with the concept of digital traffic, you need to address two different problems:
–First point of contact (reaching out)
Parameters connected to new visitors describe the efficacy of your content marketing strategy within the first category.
Parameters connected to retention describe how well-designed your content page is in order to grab the attention of first-time viewers during their visit and over time (by turning them into returning visitors or subscribers).
This information is the most basic indicator, and it will show you if your distribution strategy is effective.
It’s not so much about absolute values. You can also look at this figure in terms of growth. If you can see a constant increase in the number of unique visitors, independently from the single daily result, you can already establish that your content is working properly and that your distribution strategy is effective.
Of course, we all dream of a sudden hype and viral growth of unique visitors overnight…and this can also happen if you manage to create a piece of content which people are particularly receptive for.
But the most important thing is generating consistent results over time.
We need to be sure that our strategy is sustainable and that it continuously supports our assumptions and targets.
New vs. Returning Visitors
Comparing the number of new and returning visitors is a way to determine if our inbound strategy is designed for our intended goal.
Your content can serve the purpose of creating a strong community of supporters around your brand. In this case, you want to engage your existing audience with content that creates value and you want your community members to return back every time you publish new information.
It’s a little bit what happens here at breakline with our writers. We love when we create content on freelance writing which can help them improve and access new resources.
On the other hand, though, your content might be designed to attract new leads (which is usually the case).
Therefore, you need to make sure that the content is distributed through many different channels on top of your newsletter and Facebook or Linkedin pages.
Communicating with your existing audience creates a durable relationship while approaching new visitors is necessary in terms of lead generation.
By looking at the rate of new over returning visitors, you can establish if you managed to deliver your content to through the right channels.
If your aim is to create a community around your brand, it is also important to verify how often access your site. Returning visitors might come back with a different frequency.
If you want to be remembered as a top brand in the minds of your community members, you need visitors to access your content at least weekly.
If you deal with a low-frequency rate, you might want to optimize your newsletters.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to increase the frequency at which you get in touch with your subscribers.
This might be counter-productive as people might feel annoyed and your newsletter won’t be perceived as special anymore.
But maybe, you need to optimize the copy of the newsletter itself or the content you present. If your audience is not receptive, maybe they’re not actually interested in the content you’re generating.
Time on the site
The current environment in which we work is over-crowded, noisy, and not easily intelligible. With your content, you’re not addressing single people at an imaginary business lunch anymore.
If you’ve been to New York, or if you’ve seen a picture of Times Square, imagine your content is written on a tiny piece of paper which is located somewhere among all the neon lights, advertising signs and screens around the buildings.
Large corporations and their content represent the huge Jumbotrons that everybody sees walking from Broadway or 7th. Your content is that 1X1 In. piece of paper which hangs somewhere among several luminous Broadway show billboards.
People are bombarded with newsletters, information, and social media input.
Even if a headline is strong enough to generate interest, if your content is not valuable, visitors will abandon your page in just a few seconds and move on to the next item in their list of “read-later” content.
You need to capture the attention of your audience, make an initial promise, deliver on it and exceed expectations.
This way, you should be able to retain visitors long enough to make sure that they get the best out of the information you publish.
Similarly, you must also think that the majority of people are simply interested in reading a couple of key points and immediately leave in order to Tweet, reply to an email, open another newsletter, read another article…
There will always be a lot of visitors who will quickly skim through your articles and simply hit back on their browser and disappear.
You need to generate enough interest for people to start browsing around and maybe read another article or check your ‘about’ page.
Adding links to other content within your articles will facilitate the task, as people will not have to scroll up or down to your header or footer to see what other resources are available.
You also need to give a reason for people to click on other links. You need to motivate your readers, by explicitly pointing out the benefit they’ll have by clicking.
Happy readers will be more likely to check your ‘about‘ page in order to find out who provided them with useful information. Offering easily accessible links throughout the content page facilitates the process.
Page Views and Behavior
In connection to the previous point, you can look at page views as a way to determine how well-designed your site is.
Worst case scenario, people will access your content and leave after a few seconds.
Best case scenario, people will check your ‘about’ page, check your products or services, access additional content and also move on to specific landing pages created to generate leads.
Check the traffic flow and see where people click. See how many pages they visit and in what order.
This, together with heat maps can offer great insights about the general quality of your UI and the UX you create.
Passive consumers of information can be valuable if they turn into returning visitors, subscribers, or prospects.
But an effective inbound marketing strategy should help you establish a proper dialogue with your target group and also create an active community of followers who will help you amplify your content.
Each client can turn into an ambassador, a partner, an affiliate, a supporter, an evangelist and ultimately a sales representative.
The first step is participation on the site. You need to find proper incentives to lead people to comment and interact with your content.
Some people say that comments are overrated. The reality is that comments on your content will offer you several benefits.
- Search engines take into account on-site participation in order to assess the quality of your content
- Proper feedback will help you identify the real needs of your target audience
- Replying to every single comment will allow you to be present, create a vivid image of your company, create a personal relationship
- Comments and replies can be incredibly useful sources of inspiration for additional content
- You can timely address concerns and doubts and create trust
Managing comments can be time-consuming, but a company run by robots is impersonal and cold.
People make decisions based on trust and familiarity. The first step toward a relationship is a transparent dialogue.
A community that supports your brand is the most effective way to spread content.
People trust other people, not companies.
We need to make it easy for people to share and link back to our content, embed graphics or add comments to our posts on social media.
Within your company, you can rely on a certain amount of resources, but a community of supporters will work as a huge marketing team.
Engagement: Clicks, comments, likes, favourites and similar
By looking into social media analytics, we can see how many clicks our content received and this is a first indicator of how well the content was presented.
Additionally, we can see how many people actually liked what we published by seeing the number of likes or favourites (on Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and other social media or content aggregators).
Caveat: these indicators are actually biased.
They don’t actually provide you with a measure for the quality of your content and efficacy, because many people tend to favourite or like items that come from a specific source or because they simply are intrigued by the headline.
That doesn’t mean that they actually accessed your content. The important parameter here is the number of clicks.
Likes and such, will probably give you an idea of how popular and respected your brand is (people blindly endorsing your content), but we can’t gather any information on the content itself.
We can evaluate our social media strategy, brand image, and strength of our headlines, but to evaluate the efficacy of our content marketing strategy we need to weigh up likes and actual clicks.
It’s not a secret that social amplification through shares is one of the aims of content marketing.
If you only share content within your existing fan base, you’ll probably be able to reach 10% of the people who follow you throughout different social media.
Each share will approximately give you access to 10% of the audience of other people and the effect can be recursive if their audience, in turn, shares the content they see.
With tools like Buzzsumo, content amplification becomes more difficult for smaller companies.
People like to share what other people already shared because we like to be part of the group of the “cool” people and because knowing what content is popular reduces the amount of guesswork involved in content curation.
People tend to share content created by well-established, trustworthy companies and, as in a self-fulfilling prophecy, seeing content being shared motivates other people to follow suit.
The most difficult part is gaining momentum.
Once you manage to reach a large audience through your social media channels and once you manage to become an authority in your field, you’ll be able to leverage participation.
It’s a long process which requires continuous work and attention.
For small and medium-sized companies or for startups, monitoring the number of direct and indirect shares, repins, or retweets will give you an idea of how good your content actually is.
For larger companies or personal brands, the same rule holds true as for likes and favourites: some people blindly share content generated by authoritative sources knowing that these sources always deliver on quality.
Social media shares have a temporary effect. Shares are essential in order to reach a new audience but even more desirable is the effect derived from backlinks and mentions.
If other individuals, companies or bloggers link back to your articles, embed infographics or other portions of your content, mention your company or one of your posts, you’ll be able to generate a lot of traffic and attention for a much longer period of time.
The effect of your content will propagate over time diluting all the costs connected to generation and promotion.
Backlinks also offer other positive side-effects such as ranking and authority. By mentioning you as a reference for a particular subject, you establish your brand as the expert in that particular field.
That’s why backlinks are one of the key indicators for your inbound marketing strategy.
After generating attention and traffic, participation and page views, proper dialogue and value, we obviously want our efforts to be rewarded through lead generation.
Popularity itself is not an incentive if you can’t monetize on your efforts.
The whole return on investment can be subdivided into direct or indirect effects of your content marketing strategy.
The main direct effect is obviously the opportunity to get in touch with a potential customer.
The number of lead generated can be monitored by evaluating the percentage of visitors who decides to make a commitment.
Together with your content, you need to create an opportunity for visitors to interact with your brand.
Incentivizing comments on your content or on social media posts with questions is important, but you also need to bring the conversation on a more personal level.
You need to implement proper calls to action which might have different purposes:
- Invite people to check your product page
- Invite visitors to subscribe to your newsletter to be informed when additional content is published
- Invite people to opt-in and receive premium content
- Direct visitors to a landing page
- Invite people to get in touch with you
If your audience feels that the content they accessed was extremely valuable, they’ll be more likely to take further steps.
The percentage of visitors who become subscribers or who opt-in for a specific offer is a great indicator of how effective your content is.
Caveat: A low value in this field doesn’t necessarily indicate that your content is poor. It might be as well that your content is top-notch, but your call to action is not effective (problem with the copy or presentation) or that the next step is not considered valuable.
With proper A/B tests for calls to actions and landing pages, you should be able to evaluate if the problem is connected to the content you created or to copywriting.
Ultimately, you need to see cash flow into your company otherwise the obvious outcome would be bankruptcy.
After monitoring and optimizing all the top of the funnel strategies, you need to communicate with leads and subscribers on a regular basis.
Chances are that your potential customers aren’t ready to access your product or service when you contact them, or that they’re not convinced of the quality of your work and the potential results they might achieve by implementing your solution.
Offering premium content and additional steps of commitment (from providing an email address to scheduling a phone call for example) through different stages of communication is the phase which involves the actual sales processes.
At this stage, you have a clear indicator, which is the number of leads which turn into customers.
If you already have an idea of the LTV (life time value) of each new customer, you’ll be able to clearly assign a price to your content marketing strategy and a monetary return over time.
You can define cost per lead and customer or simply look at the overall LTV of your client base against the overall content marketing budget over time.
Conversion and revenue represent very plain indicators that will lead you to identify potential problems connected to your inbound marketing strategy.
A low conversion might derive from intrinsic reasons (quality of the content) or contextual circumstances (calls to action, sales processes, timing, pricing…).
Indirect Effects Of Your Content Marketing Strategy
It’s obviously easy to monitor the effects of your marketing strategy in terms of clients, sales, and revenue.
The only problem here might be attribution: Implementing the proper tools to verify the initiators of the lead generation process.
But once we establish where leads came from and how we converted them into customers, we only have to deal with straight figures to evaluate the ROI.
The problem is that a well-executed content marketing strategy also generates additional effects which are a little bit more immaterial and more difficult to evaluate.
Brand Awareness, presence
Visibility leads to more awareness and to the fact that your brand will quickly pop up in your potential customers’ mind when thinking of participants in a specific industry.
Being a top-of-the-mind brand offers numerous advantages and will obviously give you an edge in terms of competition.
Establishing how popular and well-established your brand is can be tough. Public companies have clear indicators that put a price on their goodwill and brand value.
For smaller companies, it is essential to scan social media and blogs in order to monitor mentions and references. This way, you can have an idea of how popular your brand name is in connection with your business sector.
You also need to assess the quality of the mentions and consider the effect that their endorsement has on your brand: Their own brand value will percolate and influence the perception of your own brand.
Organic Traffic: SEO and Keyword Ranking
If your content is optimized to include specific keywords, your ranking for those particular keywords will be enhanced.
Creating content with the sole intent to boost organic traffic can have catastrophic repercussions. You need to deal with people and potential customers. That’s your primary goal.
And by offering value to your audience you’ll also manage to show search engines what your skills and expertise are.
If the content you created is optimized, you should be able to include those specific long-tail keywords and phrases which will allow you to improve your page rank and attract lots of traffic through organic search.
Working on your ranking is a never-ending job. Some people say that organic traffic is like working with an auto-pilot: Create, sit back and relax while traffic comes to your site like moths to a flame.
Well,…it’s actually not that easy. Monitoring keywords and ranking will show you how dynamic the process is.
Static pages will obviously fall into oblivion after a while because search engines are not really into old content.
Besides, the whole environment changes and your competitors will also move along.
Monitoring the amount of organic traffic that lands on our content pages (not on the main or product page) is another way to see how effective your content marketing campaign is.
This effect is long-lasting (it doesn’t vanish as it happens after a classic outbound marketing campaign) and can generate quality traffic.
Finally, the most difficult factor to consider when monitoring and optimizing your content marketing campaign is brand perception.
That’s obviously the most complicated indicator as the level of authority of your company in a particular sector is hard to establish.
However, the key points are relevance and associations.
Your content needs to address concepts which are directly connected to the needs and pains of your target group. That’s why, also, in this case, mentions and associations are extremely important.
How well-received is your content? In what contexts is it mentioned? What kind of traffic does it attract?
Relevance and associations can offer a partial overview of how well-defined your content marketing strategy is.
Cost And Benefits
Optimizing your content marketing strategy offers an incredible amount of rewards which are durable and quantifiable with proper indicators.
But the whole strategy involves costs:
- Initial research and planning
- Content Generation
- Analysis and adjustments
Costs are represented by human resources, time, tools and equipment.
Once you amortize these costs over a certain period of time you want to take into account you can calculate the benefits of your inbound campaign over the same period of time by evaluating the effect on revenues of:
- Referral traffic to content pages
- Organic Traffic to content pages
- Improved ranking
- Mentions and secondary traffic
- Improved brand awareness, loyalty, and perception
- Effective cost per click from non-outbound marketing activities
You can also benchmark the same results against different marketing strategies (for example classic and online advertising campaigns) and see if your strategy is well-planned and designed.
An optimized content marketing strategy will, in fact, always generate more leads than any other tactics, will create more loyal customers (higher LTV) and will always have a much lower cost per click than PPC, search engine optimisation or social media strategies.
I hope these metrics will help you determine the success of your content marketing strategy and improve over time.
Thanks to Semrush for the infographic.