There’s a debate raging in the world of content. I’ve heard it described as many things – data geek vs. storyteller, Silicon Valley vs. Madison Avenue, intelligence vs. emotion. The long and short of it is that as more and more people jump on the content marketing train, the calls for a clear way of measuring content impact get louder.
When two tribes go to war
Data analysis, traffic, linger time, click throughs and shares are lauded by one camp as the most obvious way to measure content. And as technology has advanced, so too have the ways to measure what a user is looking at and what that means. Today and in the near future you could look at how engaged a reader is when they are consuming content, how many returning readers you have and how many people read your content through until the end. In whatever form, these quantitative methods for measuring impact have dominated the world of digital ROI has for decades. They give you a clear set of figures to work from. As well as a pretty report to look at. Which is nice.
Anyone who’s been working in content for more than a nanosecond, or who hasn’t been transported from 1960s midtown New York knows that the content world today is a combination of science and magic. Both are needed and both are measurable.
Then there’s the other camp. Summed up by the ever-quotable Don Draper, when he’s talking to a client in the post-pitch glow of a winning idea. For some content creators there’s still the belief that it’s an immeasurable art form. That the right idea will hit home with consumers, but we can’t understand how or why. That when a client, impressed by creative prowess offers up the words “that was great, I think you may be right about this,” we can still smirk and respond, “well, we’ll never know, will we? It’s not a science. We’ll do our best.” Cue suave nod, handshake, martini.
50 years ago maybe. But not today. The reality – as anyone who’s been working in content for more than a nanosecond, or who hasn’t been transported from 1960s midtown New York knows – is that the content world today is a combination of science and magic. Both are needed and both are measurable.
Make me care, please
A great blog from Contently explains that the goal of brand publishers is fundamentally different from that of other publishers – it’s not about trying to make money from page views. It’s about trying to build relationships with customers.
There’s no denying that consumption metrics and sharing metrics are useful – you want to know how many people are reading your content, and how many people are sharing it (most SEO experts agree that social signals like shares, retweets and +1s are extremely important in determining Google rankings and are going to get more important in the future). But that’s only part of the mix. Because just by producing a vast quantity of content you can get your consumption metrics up. Just by turning your headlines into clickbait you can boost shares. But that won’t add up to content that counts for your business. To genuinely assess the return on investment you are getting from your content you need to think bigger. You need to think long term.
Measuring leads and sales – did anybody take a desired action as a result of the content? Did any of those people actually become a customer? – isn’t about clicks and shares in the short term. Instead, the leads and sales that come from content require a different sort of measurement, which can only be made over time. And it’ all tied up with brand trust and loyalty. Which is all tied up with customer relationships. Which is all tied up with quality content. Meaningful content. Magic content.
The excellent slide share from Rand Fishkin, explains the importance of brand trust and loyalty in content performance really well. Of course it’s about understanding how people use the web, how people consume content today and the decisions they make as a result. But it’s also about understanding what they want, what makes you different as a brand and what you can offer.
Measuring leads and sales is all tied up with brand trust and loyalty. Which is all tied up with customer relationships. Which is all tied up with quality content. Meaningful content. Magic content.
Ultimately you need to give people something valuable in the content you create, be it informative and entertaining. You need them to engage with what you put out there so they use it, then come back for more. You need your users to see you as a resource, an asset, a brand that is augmenting their virtual – and even physical – experience in some way. So they remember you and what you’ve given them. So that when they eventually do come to buy, it’s you they are thinking of.
If you’re going to justify content expenditure, you need to look at those relationships and how they build up before you can seriously measure the lead or sales impact your content is having. You need to invest in the sort of high quality content that really connects with your customers and you need to give it time to play out, the same way you would give an actual relationship time to play out.
And then you can measure it.
Properly calculating content ROI is far from a pipe dream, but it’s not a quick scoot through Google analytics either. It’s about modelling and measuring brand lift; how people think of you in relation to your marketing objectives and how your content is feeding into building the relationship you desire with consumers. And consumption, shares, leads and sales all feed into that.
So how do we create content that makes people care and share? Here are a few simple things to get started:
Give them something they want. You’re the expert in your business sector and you’ve got information consumers want. So share it. Debunk myths, explain technology, create How To guides, unpack complex subjects – if you help consumers better understand something they’ll remember you.
Find a hook. Love it or hate it, clickbait works. And it works because it’s intriguing. We all want to read something that ‘blows our minds’ or ‘changes our lives forever.’ The reality is we know the story we’re about to read won’t do either of those things, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s piqued our interest, it’s made us curious and it’s made us click. Now unless your goal is high traffic, low engagement, mimicking clickbait sites won’t work. But there is something to take away. Intrigue and curiosity are powerful human responses – use them in your headlines and throughout your content and you’ll get people to read, then keep reading.
Spread it out. We are in a world where people engage with content on all sorts of different platforms often at the same time. Someone can be watching TV, on their phone and have a tablet at their side, all at the same time. So a great piece of content makes the most of this, drawing in users in all sorts of different ways by playing out different aspects of the story across different platforms.
Intrigue and curiosity are powerful human responses – use them in your headlines and throughout your content and you’ll get people to read, then keep reading.
Who’s it for? Before you create your content really think about who will engage with your content, who will amplify it and why. You need to build those reasons for reading – and sharing – into everything you make.
Ultimately, great content builds relationships. And relationships build businesses. Each piece of quality content strengthens the brand-consumer bond until the point of purchase, and then it just keeps on going.
So give it time, decide on your measures of success and apply them. That’s how to make content count.