Content marketing may be one of the most effective ways for small and mid-sized businesses to attract and retain customers in 2015. Or it may not be.
Nineteenth century American merchant and marketing pioneer John Wanamaker famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
Wanamaker, who opened his first store in 1896, knew he needed to promote his retail business. He could tell if a promotion was working, but he could not, with certainty, identify the individual ads or promotions that were the most successful.
In spite of many improvements in technology and our ability to collect data in 2015, some marketers may still struggle with measuring promotions or strategies — like content marketing — effectively. While there is no magic content-marketing-measurement panacea, there are good ways to monitor content marketing’s impact on business goals, and some relatively clear steps you can take toward proper measurement.
Have Business Goals
Before you can decide whether a marketing strategy or tactic is working well or not, you need to know what you are trying to accomplish.
Make certain your business has smart, measurable, and achievable goals clearly identified. It can also be helpful to break goals into segments, pieces, or dependencies. So, a goal to increase sales ten percent this year might depend on increasing site traffic five percent per month for the rest of the year.
Know what your business goals are before you try to measure content marketing. In fact, you need to know what your business goals are before you start to create content so that your content can be tailored, if you will, toward success.
Track Multiple Metrics
Several experienced marketers and marketing companies have published lists of recommend content marketing metrics and key performance indicators.
For example, Jay Baer at Convince & Convert described four types of meaningful content metrics.
- Consumption metrics. Page views for a blog post would be an example.
- Sharing metrics. Like the number of tweets or Facebook shares an article gets.
- Lead generation metrics. This might be whitepaper downloads or email newsletter subscriptions.
- Sales metrics. Tracks the path from content to conversion.
The folks at NewsCred, a content marketing software provider, suggest three categories of metrics with several associated KPIs.
- Reach. Includes KPIs like impressions, traffic, subscriber count, or similar.
- Engagement. Time on site, bounce rate, page views, return visits, referrals, and social sharing.
- Conversions. For NewsCred, this includes improvements in brand perception, behavioral conversions, lead generation, and actual sales.
The point here is that no single measurement will tell you whether your content marketing is working well or not, but rather — using your specific goals as a guide — monitor several KPIs.
How to Choose the Proper KPIs
In 1962, architect Rolf Myller wrote the children’s book How Big Is a Foot? to help young people understand the importance of standard measurements.
In the book, a king decides to give his queen a custom-made bed for her birthday. The king, who has relatively big feet, asks the queen to lie on the floor while he steps around her, measuring the width and length using the size of his feet. Unfortunately, the carpenter’s apprentice, who must make the bed, has much smaller feet, and even a five-year-old listening to the story can imagine the impending error long before the book reveals that the bed is too small.
While Myller’s main point was standardization, one might also say that the king and the apprentice had a different understanding of what the measurements meant and implied about the goal of making a bed.
When you’re selecting the KPIs to measure your content marketing, you need to be certain those KPIs are meaningful and relate to your goals. Here is an example.
Imagine it is your goal to increase sales on an ecommerce site 10 percent in the next 12 months. To achieve that goal, you believe that you will need to increase site traffic 5 percent per month, boost your conversion rate 1/2 percent, and add 150 repeat customers to your base of loyal shoppers.
If you chose to use content marketing to help achieve these goals you might set up your metrics with three categories similar to Baer and NewsCred’s suggestions. I call these categories, below, “Views & Shares,” “Conversions,” and “Retention.”
Each of these categories would have a few KPIs, which together could be used to monitor the content campaign.
What you do specific to your business will likely be different, but the process will be similar.
Measure to Optimize
Finally, remember the best marketers measure not to prove that one tactic is working while another tactic is failing, but rather to improve. It is unlikely your first attempt at content marketing will double your business overnight. But a consistent content marketing plan, regularly measured and improved, can increase sales and profit.