Content marketing has gained much traction over the last 18 months and for good reasons. It's becoming an important part of any organization's marketing mix and can have an immediate impact on how companies are perceived, as well as their success online.
Content marketing also has an immediate impact on search. The latest updates from Google (e.g., Hummingbird) emphasize even more the importance of producing good content and having good marketing practices in place to promote that content.
What are the various components of content marketing?
At a high level, content marketing has two obvious parts: content and marketing. While marketing practices are relatively known and can be summed by the various tactics in the marketing mix, content is the one that requires a little more explanation.
Content marketing consists of four interconnected components and each of them has an impact on the final result of your content marketing efforts and therefore warrants a different set of measurement and analysis.
Let's now define those four components and then the metrics and analysis each requires.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. – Content Marketing Institute
Content, in the way we treat content these days, is the combination of message and format. Content can't exist without these two elements.
For example, a blog post is a message written in words using the format of HTML on a webpage. The same exact message, the words written on a webpage, can be recorded and consequently take the format of a podcast, which will result in a different kind of content. The message will remain exactly the same, but given its different format, you will have another piece of content.
While this might be obvious, the nuance of the format is important since format determines the distribution channel (the medium) on which the content can be delivered.
In our example, a blog post will be delivered on a blog and can only be read on a browser or using a RSS reader. The podcast, on the other hand, can be distributed through other distribution channels like iTunes and can be consumed in other ways.
The importance of the medium is the access it provides to audience. Television has a much broader distribution than my personal blog, but the barrier to entry is extremely different.
The revolution of the Internet is that it made the distribution of content by any person much easier and almost barrier free. It also meant that messages that previously would be limited to mediums much smaller in their reach could now be placed on mediums that provide them much larger reach. This is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
The medium, as determined by the format of the message, also controls the promotional activities that can take place to promote and push the message to reach more people. While this is the point where content becomes content marketing, it's important to understand this nuance since it has an impact on the overall performance of your content marketing.
Each of these four components have significant impact on the results of your content marketing. Therefore, when you analyze the performance of your content marketing, you should treat each of these components separately and measure them using different metrics.
Measuring and Analyzing the Four Components
The problem with measuring the success of content marketing lies in the fact that it has these four components that can have equal impact on the overall success.
For example, if you established a goal of 100 marketing qualified leads from a piece of content and failed to deliver, which component of the four is to blame? Is it the promotion activity that failed? Or maybe the format was off? Perhaps the message wasn't aligned with the audience or maybe the distribution channel was the wrong one?
Trying to attribute success or failure the entire effort without separating the components can lead you to the wrong conclusion.
But since the four components are so tightly tied, in order to measure them separately some A/B testing is necessary. The key to accurate A/B testing is to hold all variables constant while testing only one of them.
From all four components, message is the hardest to measure and analyze. To test the performance of the message, try to hold all other components constant.
For example, if you created a PDF on the topic of running a social media campaign, you can create two similar PDFs on the same topic but modify the message to speak to different audiences. You can run both PDFs through the same distribution channels and promotion campaigns and measure how well each of them performed at the end.
Dynamic content through marketing automation solution can help you create this type of testing, but it requires enough volume to make the results statistically significant. That's why most organization tend to go with intuition when it comes to messaging and refinement over time rather than pure A/B testing.
Testing format can also be tricky because of the direct impact it has on the distribution channel and consequently the promotion efforts. But you can still test it.
For example, the same PDF can be formatted as a video or even a podcast. In order to accurately test the format, you should try to assign the same promotion effort to both formats and treat them equally. If one format drives better results, you can assume that in the case of this specific message, this format is better suited to deliver it.
You might also realize that the compounded effect of having the same message repurpose in various formats is better and therefore worth repurposing in these formats going forward. However, you should be cognizant of the effort it takes to reformat the message and consider whether or not it's worth that effort.
3. Distribution Channel
Should a blog post be published on your blog or on a blog with a larger distribution like Search Engine Watch? To answer that, you will need to start by defining your goals and success metrics.
If you are trying to create awareness and reach more people, you might be better served with publishing it on a larger online publication if yours lack the reach. But if you're trying to build authority and strengthen your SEO, then you should stick to your own blog
Similar questions should be asked on every type of content (message and format) and distribution channel combination you pick. Since the distribution channel determines the access to audience, you should test various channels to learn which one provides you greater access to an engaged target audience. This component is easier to test because you can use the same piece of content on various channels to test all of them at once.
In my opinion, this one is the easiest to test of all four components. If you create a PDF and host it on a landing page on your site, you can test multiple promotion campaigns at the same time to see which one drives the best results for the lowest cost.
However, because this is the easiest component to test, most companies tend to confuse the performance of the promotion campaign with the overall performance of the content.
If a campaign failed to deliver the appropriate results, it's easy to blame the promotional activity rather than to evaluate all four components to truly attribute the success or failure of the campaign to one of them. The way to avoid this is to make sure you assign the right success metrics to each component and then measure and analyze all of them.
Success Metrics for Content Marketing
Now let's look at what I believe are the primary success metrics for each of the four components discussed above. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the possible metrics.
- Marketing qualified leads
- Engagement post consumption
- Returning visitors
- Survey results and ratings
- Relative shares
- Reuse/curate by other sources
- Consumption – downloads, views, pageviews
- Relative consumption
- Total leads/visits
- Marketing qualified/purchases
- Cost per acquisition
- Cost per engagement
- Engagement rate
Content marketing is becoming a central part of the marketing mix and as more budgets are being allocated to it, marketers are under increasing pressure to prove its success. Like any other marketing activity it has nuances that are important to understand and master, especially when measuring and analyzing its effectiveness in driving real business.
This framework can provide clarity to what components are important to analyze and measure to truly understand their impact on the overall performance of your campaigns.
What do you think? Do you have other ways to analyze your content marketing?