By Ann Gynn published July 29, 2016

How to Tell If Your Content Marketing Is Working: Tips From 22 Experts

content-marketing-working-experts

When asked how do you prove content marketing is working, the responding Content Marketing World presenters almost unanimously agreed that the first step is to detail the “why” behind your program.

“Without goals, you will have no way to know whether what you’re doing works or not,” says Stoney deGeyter, CEO of Pole Position Marketing. “Each goal will have different measurements, and you won’t necessarily hit them right away, but you should start seeing the needle move in that direction.”

Andrea Fryrear, chief content officer at Fox Content, agrees: “Above all, don’t start releasing content until you know what you want to measure, how to get that data, and what you plan to do with it once you’ve got it.”

Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters, puts it bluntly. “You are asking the wrong question,” he says. “The goal of content marketing is not to be good at content. The goal of content marketing is to be good at business because of content. For your content to “work,” it must demonstrably support the goals of the company.”

The goal of #contentmarketing is to be good at business because of content says @jaybaer #cmworld Click To Tweet

Keeping in mind that content marketing must start with goals, we offer insight and tips on how to know your content marketing is working from more of the presenters appearing at Content Marketing World this September.

Interestingly, we found some experts who champion “measuring everything,” while others say be concerned about whether your content truly helps people. Now, you can mix and match their advice to tailor the best way to measure whether your content marketing is working for you and your organization.

Pause, put audience first

Instead of jumping straight to what metrics you want to bump, think bigger. In order for any content to work, you must start with an audience-centric vision. Give your content a clearly defined mission. Now, who will be affected? Will your content change minds? How so? After you fleshed out a “job description” for your content, you’re ready to determine what metrics you’ll use to determine success.

Deana Goldasich, CEO, Well Planned Web, LLC

In order for any #content to work, you must start with an audience-centric vision says @goldasich #cmworld Click To Tweet

Frame answer through your audience

“Is it working?” implies you know the answer to another question: “What is it for?”

If the answer is “to drive leads, sales, subscribers, etc.,” you’re still one step removed from the right answer. The right answer is, “My content is for (insert your audience’s goals).”

For example, at NextView, we invest in early-stage tech startups. Our content is not “for growing email subscribers and winning more startup investment deals.” Those are byproducts of us doing something else well – “helping entrepreneurs gain initial startup traction.” That’s what our content is really for. The more we frame our content like that, the more time we’re forced to get feedback from customers and tweak our work, not like a marketing campaign but like a PRODUCT.

To use two holy examples: Pixar doesn’t say, “This movie is for selling merchandise.” J.K. Rowling didn’t say, “This book is for inking movie deals!” But precisely because they made something for the audience from the start, they get reach and results marketers only dream of seeing.

Jay Acunzo, vice president of platform, NextView Ventures

Take negative view

The questions that I ask: “How can you prove (content marketing) is not working and what would be best alternatives to it?”

It is easy then to see that all other marketing and communication activities are not even close to such deep insights and measurements offered by content marketing and most of them require much bigger budgets.

To make it short, “working” means that content marketing is triggering some sort of change in behavior and that is the ultimate goal.

Primož Inkret, co-founder and partner, PM, Poslovni Mediji

#Contentmarketing is working when it is triggers a change in behavior says @pinkret #cmworld Click To Tweet

Don’t do it piecemeal

The biggest disservice a CMO can do to its team is to set the expectation that each piece of content ought to contribute directly towards the ultimate marketing goal (e.g., drive sales leads, conversions).

Tracking success at the individual blog post level is a sure way to fail, but tracking KPIs at the program level for each stage of the marketing funnel is essential.

Also, pay close attention to relative metrics (are we doing better today than yesterday) and less so to absolute metrics as the latter will always be less reliable and more prone to being challenged.

Pierre-Loic Assayag, CEO and co-founder, Traackr

Understand role of tactics

Remind me, how many millions did you spend on billboards or TV commercials in the last decade again? How do we know they worked? Seriously, it all depends on what our goals are. Are we trying to raise our brand awareness? There are ways to measure that. Are we trying to increase a certain type of conversion? The trick is to determine what that goal is, then find the correct strategy, and measure it. Not all tactics work for all types of goals. And some tactics take longer than others.

Christoph Trappe, senior director of content marketing + content creation, MedTouch

The trick is to determine what your goal is, then find the correct strategy, and measure it says @CTrappe Click To Tweet

Play ball to win

Picture a baseball coach in a meeting with the team’s owners. The coach can talk about how his players have the best batting average in the world all he wants. But if the team never wins a game, it’s time for a new coach. The relationship between marketers and the C-suite is no different.

Marketers have to stop reporting on activities and start reporting on business outcomes. The key is to link top-of-funnel engagement to bottom-of-funnel conversions. Solid multi-channel attribution is necessary to measure the impact of your content on a channel, campaign, and individual post level, especially in the B2B space.

Allen Gannett, CEO, TrackMaven

Plan to measure

Avoid the stress that comes with leaving measurement for last. Include a measurement plan in your content marketing strategy and create a clear vision for how you will prove the value of your content before you publish your first piece.

Each measurement plan should include methods for calculating progress made toward identified business and marketing objectives. Additionally, each piece of content should be measureable against its purpose as part of the overall strategy.

Lindsay Tjepkema, director, content strategy, Relevance

Get the buzz

I use BuzzSumo to show content analytics. You can see which pieces of content are getting the most shares by keyword or by domain name.

Also, you can tell that your content is working, if you are ranking well in search engines, getting social media love, and getting customers in your sales funnel from your efforts.

Travis Wright, chief marketing technologist, CCPDigital.com

Track, track, and track

All of your content should be measured and tracked. Downloadable assets should be created dynamically on the fly with all embedded links carrying the information about the original download. Not only can you track the downstream outcomes of people who interacted with the content (allowing you to make the ROI case), but it also makes it possible to answer interesting questions about latency and the nature of the sales cycle (e.g., how long after interacting with a particular content piece does the person respond to the call to action).

Tim Ash, CEO, SiteTuners

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:The Secret to Content Marketing ROI

Know your most important analytics

I look at a couple of key metrics:

  • Total page views on content pages – which tells me that our headlines and social promotion is sufficiently click-worthy to drive people to the page
  • Engagement time – which tells me that people are staying once they click through
  • Conversions to things like job searches or account creation – which tells me that my team has successfully delivered ROI

On conversions, I specifically focus on entrances to the site via content pages – did people whom we have brought to the site through content take any of the desired actions?

I’d also say this about analytics: They’re not the be all and end all. You need to rely on your gut, too. For example, I know that not every piece of content we do will deliver both high page views and high conversions. Yes, the stuff that does both is content marketing gold, but you can’t do this every day.

Margaret Magnarelli, managing editor and senior director of marketing, Monster

Analytics: They’re not the be all & end all. You need to rely on your gut, too says @mmagnarelli #cmworld Click To Tweet

Do more with vanity

We look at typical vanity metrics (e.g., views, downloads, forms filled) and tie them to revenue. We measure marketing effectiveness in terms of marketing-influenced revenue and deals in the pipeline. Content marketing is one part of the story of the sale and we have worked to tie that to our lead management process.

Kathy Sterio, chief marketing officer, Current, powered by GE

Pick the best metrics

Make sure that you are capturing all stages of the conversion funnel – website visitor metrics, social media shares, newsletter sign-ups, offer downloads, and sales.

Use these metrics to figure out what’s working and then amplify those efforts. Remember, your content can garner engagements long after it’s published. Be sure to continuously track engagements to understand what content is outperforming the rest.

Juntae DeLane, digital brand manager, USC; founder, Digital Branding Institute

#Content can garner engagement long after it’s published so you need to continuously track it says @dbiweb Click To Tweet
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
How to Measure Engagement the Right Way

Quantify results

The problem with content marketing is that most companies don’t track the results for every piece of content they create. If you can’t track the results then you don’t know the effectiveness of the content. If you create a blog piece of content you should be able to track how many people opt in for email follow-up and how many eventually become a customer. Then, you can work out the value of any particular blog post.

Ian Cleary, founder, RazorSocial

Envision long-term success

Storytelling has a billboard effect. People know about you and recognize your brand in a drive-by way. It’s sharing stories that engage, entertain, and inform – which is what keeps the audience returning and keeps your brand top of mind.

Successful storytelling doesn’t happen overnight. Staying relevant and authentic allows you multiple touchpoints for two-way communication with your audience. You can prove that it’s working over time by monitoring how people found out about your brand, how they enter your website and share information from it, and how interactions on digital/social translate into phone calls and in-person visits.

Mariah Obiedzinski, manager, content marketing strategy, MedTouch

Look internally

Because we provide help content for software products, we get a lot of useful information internally from departments working closely with our users – support, professional services, consulting.

We also use metrics to make sure users are finding our content, but I don’t think metrics – no matter how smart – are good at tracking the success of our content. Some form of interaction with the users is needed to track engagement/success.

Denise Kadilak, information architect/team manager, K-12 user education, Blackbaud, Inc.

Check on revenue and gut

Your sales or donations will go up. It’s that simple. But I also think there’s an internal feeling in a company when content marketing is working. Teams feel more aligned. They understand the brand’s value proposition. Everyone can make the elevator pitch. People understand their roles and how to get it done. So there’s an external measurement, but there’s also an internal cultural externality that should be super positive.

Ahava Leibtag, principal, Aha Media Group

Set benchmarks

What is your goal? Determine your metric from that. Measure it. Use benchmarks:

  • If your goal is engagement, try to increase engagement rate. Facebook post engagement rate should be over 1%. We have multiple clients reaching 5 to 10%. The highest we’ve seen is 21%.
  • If you’re advertising for engagement, try to lower your cost per engagement by creating more engaging content and testing multiple targets. You should be able to get cost per post engagement below 20 cents. We often see it go below 5 cents.
  • If your goal is lead generation, your lead-gen conversion rate should be at least 5%. For B2B we’ve seen it go up to 20% and for B2C up to 75%. Improve the value and appeal of your lead magnet. Try multiple types of lead magnets. Make them more fun or more useful. Split test multiple versions and multiple landing pages.
  • If you’re advertising for lead gen, surprisingly, Facebook often beats Google and LinkedIn on both price and volume. You can target by job title, employer, seniority, company size, jargon interests, and more. And you can get lead-gen cost per lead down to $5 to $10 in many cases. I’ve seen some Facebook ad B2B lead-gen cost per lead as low as $1.50. Keep testing.

Brian Carter, founder, The Brian Carter Group

Consider this top 10 list

You know your content is working when …

  1. Your sales team mentions your content when answering questions for prospects, “Actually, we just wrote an article on that topic.”
  1. Your customer service team suggests topics, “Have we written anything about setting up these tools?”
  1. Prospects interrupt you during sales presentations, “Yes, I already read about that. I’m ready to talk to you about my specific needs.”
  1. Your boss asks you if you need more budget, “What would it take to do a webinar like that every month?”
  1. Your competitors’ websites and blogs start looking too familiar, “Have I seen this topic somewhere before?”
  1. Your recruiting pipeline is stuffed, “When I thought of where I’d like to work, you guys came to mind first.”
  1. People you meet act like they’re old friends, “So great to meet you. I feel like I’ve known you for years.”
  1. You lose track of press and media inquiries, “Tell them I can do the interview next week.”
  1. Your rank, subscribers, followers, and traffic grow, even when you’re out of town, “Wow, I should take vacations more often!”
  1. Your sales team gets annoyed when leads come in, “I took the last one. It’s your turn.”

Andy Crestodina, co-founder, strategic director, Orbit Media

You know your #content is working when your sales team gets annoyed when leads come in says @crestodina Click To Tweet

Conclusion

While all these experts shared great insight into how to know if your content marketing is working, I loved this simple tip from Conversion Scientist’s Brian Massey: “Visit your CMO or accountant. Take a picture of her face. If she is smiling, your content is working.”

Now, go grab your camera, and if you don’t capture that smile, pick the most helpful advice from these experts to turn that frown upside down.

Visit your CMO or accountant. Take a pic of her face. If she is smiling, your content is working says @bmassey Click To Tweet

Meet these experts in person and learn even more to help your content marketing programs. Register today to attend Content Marketing World Sept. 6-9. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • Joei Chan

    Thanks for the great post, Ann! Shared it with my followers. We just launched a video featuring 5 influencers’ take on content marketing in 2017, and what to do to keep seeing results. Let me know if you like it!

    • Ann Gynn

      Hi Joei — thanks for sharing. Took a quick peak at what you’re doing too. Lots of similar themes, which is great to see as it reinforces what everybody is saying. Really love your voice in the post — nicely done!

  • rogercparker

    Thanks for pulling together a fascinating diversity of responses, in terms of both content (i.e., ideas) and expression (i.e., length and personality).

    • Ann Gynn

      Hi Roger — it was eye-opening to me too to see the wide range of perspectives and insight!

  • Edward Byrne

    Wow! So much in this post I never thought of. Turn around and look at things backwards i.e. look at the objectives to evaluate – not the actions.

    • Ann Gynn

      And the great thing is that it’s all do-able. And it starts by looking back at the starting line. Glad, Edward, that you got a lot out of the tips shared. Keep us posted on how it goes for you.

    • http://www.wellplannedweb.com/blog/ Deana Goldasich

      Indeed, Edward, it all starts with the foundation! Thanks for chiming in!

  • http://www.banner-guru.com/ zoyoya yep

    Yeah, I also believe that content is a king. Without better content total seo is worthless.