Contently Case Stories is a series highlighting some of Contently’s most successful clients.
One might not think the National Association of Realtors would be on the cutting edge of the content marketing revolution. Yet the 106-year-old trade association was among the first to adopt a direct-to-consumer content strategy when it launched HouseLogic, a digital content hub, five years ago.
By the summer of 2015, HouseLogic had over 1.5 million monthly unique visitors, but the trade association wanted to tap digital writers and content strategists to increase reader engagement.
“We were amassing an audience, but we really wanted to deepen engagement with that audience,” said Anne Feder, managing director for HouseLogic. “To do that, we needed to adopt a new methodology and the right tools to measure the performance of our content.”
To drive more meaningful engagement, HouseLogic invested in a robust content strategy, partnering with Contently to access its editorial services, engagement analytics, and a network of 60,000 freelancers. From September 1, 2015 to February 1, 2016, HouseLogic developed and tested a heavily data-driven strategy within the framework of Contently’s content methodology.
“Contently seemed like the best solution for making content more contemporary and deepening engagement,” Feder said. “We needed tools that we could learn to adopt to create permanent change.”
Contently connected the brand with content strategist Jessica Adamiak, who developed a custom strategy for HouseLogic, leveraging Contently Analytics to measure progress towards the company’s content goals. “Contently seemed like the best solution for making content more contemporary and deepening engagement,” Feder said. “We needed tools that we could learn to adopt to create permanent change.”
Conducting a content audit
The first step in developing a content plan was to assess what content NAR already had at its disposal, so Adamiak performed a content audit of HouseLogic’s archive.
“A disturbing number of companies publish new stories without bothering to analyze their old content for valuable clues about what their existing audience wants,” Adamiak said. With the content audit, HouseLogic was able to clearly identify the story types that had performed well in the past and assess where it outperformed competitors. In addition to helping them understand what to publish in the future, the brand audit guided HouseLogic on what not to publish—which can be just as valuable when trying to maximize content ROI.
To obtain these results, Adamiak reviewed HouseLogic’s 100 best-performing stories from July 2014 to July 2015. The 100 stories were chosen based on unique views, shares, comments, and “prints” (yes, the actual printing of material, which is popular among HouseLogic’s homeowner audience).
The stories were then organized by content type, topic, and preferred audience. From there, Adamiak deduced the most popular article themes. At the top were stories about affordable DIY projects, guides for remodeling and home management, and tips for avoiding common homeowner mistakes.
Adamiak also conducted a gap analysis to see which topics were trending among 21 competitors and which topics were up for the taking. The analysis revealed there was an opportunity for HouseLogic to own specific buying and selling topics.
Developing a content plan
Armed with the content audit, HouseLogic developed a custom editorial program designed to fit the interests of a new target segment of HouseLogic’s audience: the growing number of millennials buying their first home. The company worked with managing editor Natalie Burg and a team of freelancers from Contently’s network to cover home-improvement topics with relevant expertise.
“Our goal was to tap a network of new writers and content creators fluent in the digital sphere, who could complement and partner with our team of homeownership experts,” Christina Hoffmann, HouseLogic’s content manager, said.
In addition to focusing on themes not yet owned by competitors, the content plan specified which story formats would be most intriguing for millennials. Alongside web-sourced and reported articles, HouseLogic invested in multimedia content, like video and infographics.
“Contently provided us with the rationale for multimedia content that justified its increased financial and resource cost,” Feder said. “It gave us a way to test and evaluate its value versus our goals.”
According to Adamiak, engagement is one of those terms that means both everything and nothing. “In order to truly assess the value of engagement,” Adamiak said, “brands must identify metrics that are meaningful to their overall goals.”
“Contently’s analytics suite is built for content marketers to be able to assess engagement metrics in a way that makes sense.”
Since HouseLogic’s chief goal was to deepen engagement, it used the following four metrics to assess what degree readers were interacting with the site’s content:
- Social actions: shares, comments, and likes
- Story volume: unique visitors to a story
- Attention time: how much time people spent actively reading a story
- Average finish: how much of the story the average person read
“Having these metrics was a huge win for us from a content production standpoint,” Jessica Graeser, marketing manager for HouseLogic, explained.
“Contently’s analytics suite is built for content marketers to be able to assess engagement metrics in a way that makes sense,” Graeser continued. “It not only helps us compare the before and after, but also helps us decide which new content is resonating and how to optimize it.”
During the first six months of the partnership, HouseLogic created a plan to test the performance of the new content program. The HouseLogic team distributed 76 stories and conducted an A/B split test. The performance of 38 older articles (Group A) was compared to that of 38 newer articles written by Contently freelancers and developed under the new content plan (Group B). The articles were shared on the same channels—Facebook and email—after the headlines were optimized through Outbrain.
In addition to the A/B test, Adamiak and the HouseLogic team looked at how the 38 newer new articles compared to the 937 existing stories on HouseLogic’s platform with at least 500 unique views. In both the A/B test and general assessment of old versus new content, Adamiak measured the content’s success based on the four key engagement metrics mentioned above.
Result 1: New Contently content vs. old HouseLogic content
So how did the performance of the 38 older HouseLogic stories (Group A) compare with the new Contently stories (Group B)?
Quite favorably, as it turns out. After six months of testing, Adamiak analyzed how each group of content performed based on HouseLogic’s four predetermined engagement metrics. Here’s what they found.
1. Contently content was shared 66 percent more than old content.
2. Contently content generated 14 percent more readers.
3. Contently content captured 6 percent more attention time.
4. The finish rate for newer articles increased by 10 percentage points (71 percent vs. 61 percent).
While all of these metrics were encouraging to HouseLogic, the uptick in finish rate excited the HouseLogic team the most.
“The finish rate tells us a lot about what kind of stories HouseLogic’s readers can’t stop reading after they click,” Adamiak said. “This info is ultimately more important for future content than total unique views or even shares.”
Though finish rates can be artificially inflated by publishing shorter stories, that wasn’t the case for HouseLogic.
“We have noticed stories over 1,000 words have better finish rates on average than the shorter stories, which is interesting,” Adamiak said. “We don’t have enough data to determine if that’s a definitive trend, but it’s something that we’re watching closely.”
The articles “Meet the Humble Shoe Organizer, Clutter’s Kryptonite” and “8 Ways to Use Old Stuff to Create Smart Storage,” for example, had finish rates above 80 percent—despite both being longer than 1,000 words.
“Before this [strategy], we were able to generate a significant amount of clicks with a good headline,” Graeser said. “But now, we know that the actual content itself is engaging, and we have the tools to measure it.”
Result 2: New Contently content vs. all past HouseLogic content
As we noted above, HouseLogic’s next experiment was to examine how the 38 new Contently articles compared to the 937 existing stories on HouseLogic’s platform with at least 500 unique views. Here’s what HouseLogic found:
1. When expanding the sample pool, 30 percent of the new stories landed in the top 10 percent of all HouseLogic stories across all four metrics.
2. HouseLogic grew its target audience of 25- to 34-year-old millennials by 10 percent.
“The new content really speaks to the millennial audience more than some of our older content,” Hoffmann said. “It’s written to appeal to a younger tone of voice and a different approach to the topics.”
Where to go from here
HouseLogic continues to optimize its strategy by maintaining a running spreadsheet to chart the topics that are consistently driving engagement—and those that should be scaled back.
Committed to producing high-quality content, HouseLogic will remain steadfast in deepening relationships with its readers and using data to understand how those readers engage with its stories.
“Sure, thousands or even millions of people may click on a clever headline, but if no one’s bothering to read the actual story, you’ve got a problem,” Adamiak said. “This is why it’s so important to define and track engagement metrics.”