Successful Content Marketing Programs are Driven by the Right Data

According to Content Marketing Institute, only 45% of marketers know what a successful content marketing program looks like. If you haven’t mastered measuring your content marketing effectiveness, or you’re not sure how effective your efforts are, you’re not alone. Measuring the success of content marketing begins with setting goals and KPIs that are directly linked to the overall corporate goals of your organization.

In a recent episode of Found Friday, I spoke with Steve Farnsworth, CMO Steveology Group, and Erin Robbins O’Brien, President GinzaMetrics about what it takes create a data-driven content marketing program. We discussed the importance of getting the right data and knowing how to analyze it to determine what’s working and what’s not.

What makes content marketing successful?

Effectively measuring content marketing efforts is still one of the top five challenges for marketers. While it’s surprising that so many people are doing something without really knowing its effectiveness, it’s not surprising that marketers are still confused over how to define success. To date, there are no standard, universally accepted metrics to define content marketing success or even any agreement about what to measure.

“It feels like we’re still very disjointed in terms of marketing channels, marketing methodology, tactical decisions versus strategic decisions and where we place emphasis on budget and resources,” states Erin.

When we ask if our content marketing efforts are successful, we’re really asking about the success of a variety of efforts, organizational groups, and outside consultants and agencies. Lumping all those things into one group and measuring them as a whole is a challenge for many organizations. There’s a lot to tackle when it comes to deciding if a marketing program is successful, or not.

Steve Farnsworth agrees that the questions we’re asking are often too broad to answer accurately or with a single measurement. “All the pieces that make up a content marketing program are a collection, ideally, of the dozens of programs you’re doing. Each of the programs has to stand on its own with individual KPIs. What I think probably speaks more loudly or broadly [to why people don’t know what a successful content marketing program looks like] is that people aren’t necessarily truly tracking the improvements from campaign to campaign,” Steve says.

Not all goals and KPIs are created equal

The challenge of measuring content marketing effectiveness begins with the challenge of setting goals and KPIs that accurately reflect overall corporate goals. In the end, the goal of any marketing program is to drive sales, increase conversions, and contribute to the bottom line. If marketing’s goals are aligned to corporate goals, measuring the effectiveness of content marketing efforts with metrics like increased website traffic, time on page, and social share of voice fall short of proving the real value of content marketing programs.

“Measuring followers on LinkedIn purely by shares or purely by the eyeballs that read your content are interesting KPIs, but they are secondary to a proxy KPI where we ask if someone reads a piece of content, do they subscribe or do they ask for the next stage content? Most of the goals should be around lead generation, if they’re not, you need to have a pretty good conversation about why they’re not,” suggests Steve.

According to Steve, measuring efforts and setting goals fails at two levels. First, management is still learning how to use content marketing technology to make sense of the data and second, a lack of communication exists between management and the rank and file about KPIs and goals.

Getting data and measuring content marketing results cannot be an end unto itself. Somewhere along the way, we need to know what to do with the data we’re gathering. We need to know how our KPIs and goals are helping to shape overall strategies and our day-to-day efforts. We need to know how the data from one department or team compares to data from another department and how the analysis of all this data helps everyone make overall smarter decisions across the organization.

According to Erin, “One of the big topics around here is data normalization. If everyone in an organization is measuring things but they’re measuring them in a lot of different ways, you’re not comparing apples to apples anymore. You’re not even comparing apples to any other fruit. At that point, you’re just off somewhere in the vegetable patch because you can’t re-aggregate the data to deliver on a core goal. At some point, the goal is money and conversions.”

The trouble with KPIs

Vanity metrics and KPIs that target likes on social media or pageviews on blog posts tell you how individual content assets are received and most popular, but those KPIs won’t tell you how successful your efforts are at moving things along the chain and improving sales and conversions. Marketers may be playing it safe to keep from losing their jobs, or they simply may not know which questions to ask.

According to Erin, marketers face several challenges when setting measurable and meaningful KPIs:

  • Don’t know what goals to set.
  • Don’t know how to set goals that reflect corporate goals.
  • Have conflicting KPIs across departments.
  • Don’t know what the larger organizational goals are.
  • Don’t know how to create connections between efforts and larger goals.

“People don’t always know what the goals are. Honestly, when you don’t have the right goals, you tend to pick things that are so high that they don’t connect to any kind of departmental or organizational goals, or it’s so low that it’s irrelevant to what they’re going after. There’s a huge disconnect,” according to Steve.

He says that even for those organizations that have created personas and have editorial calendars and other pieces in place, they haven’t asked themselves the important questions, such as:

  • Who are we really talking to?
  • Does our content really map to our personas?
  • How are we going to measure our effectiveness?

In a lot of cases, marketers are working backward to optimize content and websites to rank higher in search results. Asking the right questions up front and knowing what key audiences care about will inform content creation decisions up front and reduce the time required to fix what’s broken on the back-end.

“Why don’t we start out with findability and build our websites and content around what people are already looking for instead of building a website and then working back to improve its findability?” asks Erin.

How much do KPIs drive daily content marketing efforts?

How often do you review your goals and measure your progress toward those goals? If your answer is quarterly or even monthly, your content marketing program may not be as data driven as you’d like.

According to Erin, ” Looking at every KPI across every marketing channel every day for some brands is very difficult, but the counter argument is that you probably shouldn’t be doing a lot of marketing activities you can’t manage, get useful insights on, and optimize accurately on a regular basis.”

At the very least, marketers should be looking at some kind of dashboard daily to monitor performance across marketing channels and to alert them to any sudden spikes or dips in website or social media engagement. Beyond daily monitoring, use measurement to monitor the progress of campaigns to determine what’s working and what’s not and to measure the success of campaigns when they’ve ended. Data should be analyzed on a regular basis to find hidden opportunities and places where improvements can be made to increase overall findability.

If you’re looking at multiple campaigns, multiple personas, and multiple marketing efforts, knowing where to start measuring effectiveness is a daunting task. Both Erin and Steve offer some ways to break measurement down into more manageable pieces.

If you’re working in a small team, Erin suggests picking a couple of things and really working on a few things at a time. If you have 50 marketing activities going on at one time, you may be spread too thin to hone in and figure out where you could be improving.

From a campaign perspective, she suggests slicing and dicing your data in several ways, including:

  • Campaign versus campaign
  • Campaigns month over month
  • Campaigns quarter over quarter
  • Campaigns year over year
  • Campaigns versus competitor performance
    • Same keywords
    • Organic performance
    • Social media share of voice

For each campaign, Steve suggests deciding what’s most important to you and setting goals based on those priorities. He suggests grouping your metrics into three phases:

  1. Traffic generation
    • Visitors
    • Pageviews
    • Backlinks
    • Source traffic
  2. Engagement
    • Bounce rate
    • Time on website
    • New visitors
    • Returning visitors
    • Sessions versus pageviews
    • Shares by content
  3. Conversion
    • Opt-in rates
    • Click-through rates
    • Number of leads

Erin cautions, “A lot of people want to start out with conversion. The problem is that without looking at the rest of the data you don’t know why people converted. Was it the medium, method, or message? These are all considerations to when you’re trying to figure out content effectiveness.”

To hear more of Erin and Steve’s comments and advice for creating data driven marketing programs, watch the entire BLAB conversation.

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Categories: Marketing Strategy.
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