Welcome to the second edition of “Ask a Content Guy,” our monthly mailbag where I answer your biggest content marketing questions. Think of me as the three-eyed raven from Game of Thrones, except I won’t set you up on a blind date with a White Walker.
Last month, we broke down content marketing definitions, when it makes sense to jump on a new social media network, and how to create content on a small budget. This month, we’re going to tackle a terrifying issue that we received tons of questions about: content marketing analytics and ROI.
What are the analytics that “really matter” in 2016? What is the best way to share them company wide?
—Carine, Washington, D.C.
I love the way this question is phrased because it sounds like we’re deliberating the Oscars.
Which metric really mattered this year, Wesley?
Well, I’d say Brand Awareness has had a tremendous impact on our cultural consciousness, wouldn’t you?
Right now, there’s a temptation in content marketing to divide metrics into two camps: useless and magical. But when it comes to content analytics, there are no absolutes.
I’m a big believer of the BuzzFeed theory that all data is useful, and there’s no “magic metric.” In the words of BuzzFeed’s former director of data science, Ky Harlin, “You’re almost better off doing nothing than focusing on just one single metric because you’re just very prone to false conclusions.”
Here’s another thing that will lead you to false conclusions: not knowing why the hell you’re creating content in the first place.
Roughly two-thirds of marketers create content without any documented strategy, and over half of both B2B and B2C marketers are not sure what a successful content program looks like. This is the biggest problem in content marketing right now. You can’t figure out what analytics “matter” if you don’t know what you want to achieve with your content.
Your company’s business goals should determine your content objectives, which should, in turn, determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) you measure. Here’s a sample chart from the “Content Methodology Best Practices Report” I wrote with analyst Rebecca Lieb:
I’m spoiled by having access to Contently Analytics, which measures a lot of the user engagement metrics that Google Analytics does not, but here are some of my personal favorites:
Engaged readers: The amount of people who spend at least 15 seconds with an article.
Shares: Still important. When people go out of their way to share your content with their social network, that means something.
Average attention time: The average amount of time someone spends scrolling, clicking, highlighting, and generally paying attention to your content. (In other words, not just leaving the tab open while they microwave a Hot Pocket—no disrespect to Hot Pockets.)
Average finish: How far are people getting through your story? If they’re bouncing at the 25 percent mark, you likely have a misleading headline or a bad lede. If they’re finishing 90 percent of the story on average, you did something right.
Social lift: A simple calculation—(shares/views + 1)—that tells you how much extra organic social traffic a story is likely to get, which will help you prioritize distribution. See BuzzFeed’s case studies for some good examples.
Avg. stories per person: Are people sticking around to read more than one story?
Email conversion rate: One of the best indicators of a great story is when it convinces the audience to sign up for our newsletter.
Lead form conversion rate: When it convinces them to express interest in reasonably expensive software, that’s even better.
Press score: Explained by our communications manager, Ann Fabens-Lassen, here. One of the biggest reasons that we invest heavily in original research is that it gets us a lot of press from major outlets. Also, I want to be Nate Silver.
I could go on. Choosing your favorite content metric is like choosing your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Although if I told my 8-year-old self that, in 20 years, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be replaced in his life by content metrics, he’d probably cry. And then he’d tell you that his favorite Teenage Mutant Turtle is Raphael, no questions asked.
Pictured above: a joke you’ll only get if you lived through my childhood!
Another best practice I strongly recommend is to tag your story (by topic, persona, format, etc.) and compare production metrics to performance metrics. That way, you can see which stories are under- or over-performing against your KPIs. Here’s an example from my personal dashboard.
According to our content analytics, we should be doing more “Fun” stories (quizzes, satire, buzzword takedowns, etc.). And here I am blabbering on about content analytics. I guess it’s time for a GIF then.
Do as I say, not as I do.
Getting to the second half of Carine’s question—how to share success across the company—I’d recommend using your data to tell a short, visual story about your content success. Pick out three or four data points that really tell the story of how your content efforts help the business. Show progress. Communicate that information in a few different ways. Send an email. Plug it in Slack. Ask to present for 10 minutes at your next all-hands meeting. Sure, you might get annoying, but you’ll also get to keep your job.
It also helps if you have the same first name as your CEO. People come up to our CEO Joe Coleman all the time to compliment The Content Strategist, thinking that he’s me. Joe’s a super analytical guy, but I secretly suspect that’s why he keeps funding us. In all seriousness, though, specific instances of positive feedback are always helpful. If clients and prospects love your content and say so, make sure you let your senior leadership know. That’s what the “forward” button is there for.
how to get socks out of toaster oven
—Howie, New York
Stop putting your socks in the toaster, Howie! This is your feet we’re talking about, not a damn Quiznos. Have you tried a tweezer? Have they been there since winter? If so, you may want to just get a new toaster.
How do you ensure your content sounds genuine and not like a thinly-veiled pitch for your product or brand?
—Megan, Matawan, N.J.
Finally, a question from my home state of New Jersey.
This is kind of like asking, “How do I not get mistaken for a cast member of The Jersey Shore?” The answer is to cool it on the gel, limit yourself to a rotation of no more than two tank tops, and avoid frequenting beach clubs in Belmar. Again, this is a place where I should probably take my own advice.
Me with my momz, #JerseyforLife #DoAsISayNotAsIdo
The key to creating genuine content that’s not a thinly veiled sales pitch is to focus on your audience from the outset. Yes, your content should map to business goals, but your thought process shouldn’t be “How can I create content that’ll get people to buy something?” If you think like that, your content is going to sound like a con.
Instead, focus on a problem that your audience has—one that isn’t being solved by anyone else. For us, it’s been covering the content marketing industry and content marketing best practices better than anyone else. That’s been our goal: to deliver the best reporting, advice, and resources possible day after day. And along the way, we’ve optimized our content based on what works best. Over 400,000 people will visit The Content Strategist this month, and many of them will download our e-books and fill out lead forms. As a result, we’re able to fulfill our duty to our audience while still delivering a ton of value to the business side.
In many ways, the key to success is passion. You have to love the content you cover and obsess over it like your favorite sports team. If you do that, your content will never sound like a sales pitch.