When it comes to measuring marketing effectiveness, virtually every content marketer and brand defines success in its own terms — based on its own preferred benchmarks, tools, and adopted formulas, as well as its own strategic goals and mix of content formats. But though industry-wide measurement standards may remain elusive and subjective, content marketers function under one uniting principle: that, in the eyes of their executives, their efforts will be judged against their ability to prove ROI.
With this measurement imperative in mind, CMI recently asked some of the experts who will be speaking at Content Marketing World 2013 to share their answers to two related questions: “Are newer measurement tools making it easier for you to prove the value of content?” and “Does the lack of an accepted measurement standard make it more difficult to quantify content’s value and ROI?”
Here are their thoughts on these issues:
Tools are getting better all the time. What needs improvement is people. Too many content marketers skip the most important step in every content marketing strategy: declaring the vision of the future they desire. A successful content marketing strategy is the high-level master plan you intend to follow to help you reach your goals.
Goals are things like:
- Create source content that is capable of being translated by machine with 90 percent accuracy in the target languages.
- Improve customer satisfaction scores by 30 percent amongst our best customers.
- Get our product approved for sale in Germany by the end of 2014.
Tactics are the actions you will take to meet your goals:
- Purchase component content management system.
- Hire software trainer.
- Convert legacy content to XML.
- Adopt DITA.
- Look for new office space in Spain.
The vision plays a critical role in content strategy development. Vision not only provides us with motivation (e.g., “to become the first ‘zero-waste’ city by 2020″), it also supports critical business decisions (“moving our software — and your information — to the cloud”), and is what we measure against to determine if we’re making progress (“to become the largest retailer of smartphones to Latin Americans living in the U.S. by 2014″).
While your vision can (and should) include long-term goals, considering the speed with which technological advances are changing our industry, it might be a good idea to limit your long-term vision to three years or so. This approach allows you to set some goals for the future, but also allows you to set yourself up for some quick, achievable victories. —Scott Abel | @ScottAbel
Every company should have a standard set of tools to measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. I don’t think there should be a “content marketing” standard, but the answer will depend on their company’s technology investments and measurement strategy.
With that said, I reject the notion that content marketing efforts cannot show an ROI. Content marketing is about acting like a publisher: creating content that your audience wants and that drives measurable return for the business.
That return should come in the form of something measurable and quantifiable like subscribers, webinar or event registrants, or marketing leads. All of which should be tracked to the point of sale and beyond. There is value in content marketing. —Michael Brenner | @BrennerMichael
Content marketing effectiveness can be tracked. It must focus on the core metrics — upon which experts don’t always agree.
At the core of measuring a strong content marketing program are the following three elements:
- Set specific, measurable goals: Without direction, your content marketing strategy is aimless. Your objectives must be associated with your business goals.
- Know your target audience: Your content must talk directly to your specific market. It can’t be generic and unfocused or it won’t be effective at achieving your goals. To this end, you need to create both marketing personas and social media personas.
- Measure your results: Select metrics that are associated with your tailored goals. These must be chosen before you start or you’ll be left with whatever you can measure. Further, you must incorporate a contextually relevant call-to-action with a unique promotional code and related landing page. This helps guide your prospects through the process. Understand that content at the top of the funnel tends to get less credit than does the last piece touched prior to purchase. —Heidi Cohen | @HeidiCohen
With so many different customer touch points, it’s always going to be difficult to get to true closed-loop reporting. However, newer measurement tools have made it much more effective to look at how content marketing objectives align with your business objectives, and then ultimately how you measure them. No two clients are exactly the same, so a lack of standard metrics isn’t as much of a concern. Instead, it is incumbent upon us to determine the objectives and measurements before beginning a content initiative, and then manage against those measurements and objectives. —Will Davis | @WillDavis
While marketers search for new tools, there is a fantastic tool right under their eyes that can be used to measure content marketing ROI: Google Analytics. On its own, GA cannot tell you the value of your content marketing. But with the right configuration and URL tagging, you can directly tie pieces of content to revenue.
For example, if you write a lot of guest columns, tagging the links to identify campaign and source parameters, you’ll be able to see exactly the number of conversions generated from clicks on a particular article link. In addition, you can label new visitors coming from these links so that you can associate their future actions back to their original provenance. The same can be done for links that you post via social media and in documents like PDFs. Views and downloads of all content on your website should be tracked, providing the ability to associate an ROI to all content-related actions. —Chris Goward | @ChrisGoward
In our eyes (as a content marketing team), we can see value in many of the stats and analytics we present to clients. However, it’s also important to think like the client (and also educate them on stats). Many clients are still hung up on the number of “likes” or followers. We use analogies to bring them around so they also see value in engagement percentages and education/expertise in content marketing. One of the areas we still see struggle in is having the clients set up their own measurement tools as well — a way to capture information into their systems as a whole — so that they can track leads and other information outside of just their social media channels. —Melissa Harrison | @alleecreative
Proper content analytics has a long way to go. But in a way, that’s just an excuse. The tools for measuring everything are here now — starting with Google Analytics and going all the way through marketing analytics to CRM. If you’re not doing it, it’s because you don’t really want to.
Today, you have to be really motivated to corral all the data, do the integrations, and get the team aligned around a dashboard. It is worth it, but it ought to be much easier. As the market consolidation brings ‘best of breed’ tools together into integrated platforms, all this will get easier. And I can’t wait. —Doug Kessler | @DougKessler
About 80 percent of our clients are on Google Analytics, and the vast majority of them provide us access so that we can measure the ROI. So that tends to be the tool of choice for us, as well. It is still a complex and difficult process though, as it can be hard to establish what all the possible conversions might be, or attribute traffic and conversions to the correct piece of content.
We tend to use unique visitors to a specific piece of content (or from a specific piece of content such as social media or other pickups) as the default measurement for our clients. That seems to be something all parties can agree on. But when it comes to following a path from content to actual conversion, there is plenty of room for error and debate. There are just so many moving parts, that I think it will be quite difficult to establish any standards for measuring ROI in the near future. —Arnie Kuenn | @ArnieK
So many businesses still aren’t even using the most basic measurement tools. I think that’s because they either a) don’t know they exist, b) can’t afford to purchase them, or c) don’t realize how important they are. Education is the big problem, really. Once more small businesses start to learn that content is the key to their success, and they stop worrying about “ranking higher” on Google, they can make a real difference in their marketing efforts. —Jim Kukral | @JimKukral
Don’t miss additional insights and information from our fabulous roster of speakers at Content Marketing World 2013. Register now with the code CMIBLOG for a $100 discount.
Cover image by Andrew Moir