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Metrics Matter More During COVID-19 Than They Ever Did

When I did PR for an air show, one factor most influenced the event’s success – and it was something no one could control. No matter how well the event was marketed or how spectacular the lineup of acts, we were at its mercy.

This uncontrollable predictor of success? The weather.

That’s why the air show team noted the forecast, actual weather (temperature, rain amount, etc.) alongside the attendance numbers in its annual records.

Those meteorological numbers gave the planners critical information to make informed decisions on future shows. Let’s say 2015 was a bad year – fewer people bought tickets, food sales were down, etc. Without considering the weather during the event, the planning team might assume people didn’t come because they weren’t interested in the headliners and star attractions. They wouldn’t want to book those acts again. But, if the planners knew the weather was rainy during the 2015 event, they wouldn’t attribute the lower attendance to the performer lineup.

Right now, all content marketers have a huge factor they can’t control that affects their success – a global pandemic.

So if you analyze your metrics like you usually do – within the framework of mostly controllable factors – you’re setting up your content marketing program for failure. It’s time to rewrite the rules of your measurement program and account for the evolving external factors and the possibly changing internal factors.

Analyzing #metrics like you usually do can set up your #contentmarketing program for failure, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Try this multi-step, metric-agnostic process – it works no matter which metrics you track for your content marketing.

Track the old world first

Pick a date a couple of weeks before the pandemic really hit your audiences – when they were going about their normal routines. Since the date could vary based on global geographic region, you may need to segment your audience.

These pre-pandemic numbers will let you see the effectiveness of your content marketing quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year. This historical perspective could be helpful down the road. Noting the numbers on this date allows you to close the chapter on your pre-COVID-19 content marketing work.

Go week to week

Your content marketing lives in the pandemic world now. Even if you found tracking quarter by quarter or even month to month worked well before the pandemic era, it’s time to step up your analysis frequency.

Given the rapidly evolving external factors affecting your audience (and internal factors affecting your team), it makes sense to start analyzing your metrics weekly. This accomplishes two things:

  • It reveals day-to-day changes in your audience’s behavior and interests.
  • It gives you a better picture of week-to-week patterns that can inform whether and how to evolve your content marketing program in response to audience changes.
Review your content #metrics weekly to better understand the COVID-19 impact, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

But you can’t just look at the same analytics reports you used to use. You need to add an extra layer of information.

Note key dates on a timeline

When you pull the reports, note any relevant external factors, including:

  • The start date for stay-at-home orders
  • Other pertinent dates or news affecting your industry or your audience (a tax accounting firm would note that on March 21 the federal government extended the federal income tax filing deadline to July 15, for example)

This robust combination of your typical metrics and relevant news will ground your analysis.

Now it’s time to conduct a two-step review – first, look at the audience’s behavior overall, and second, dig deeper into your audience’s behavior with your content.

1. What is your audience doing (or not doing)?

You probably recognized standard cycles of audience behavior in your pre-coronavirus metrics analyses. For example, you knew that blog traffic would dip the last week of every year because many in your audience are on vacation. Or you expected email open rates to increase right before your in-person events.

Now it’s time to look at your audience behavior trends on a more granular level because they’re changing far more rapidly. At this point, you’re just looking for general audience behavior – not its reaction to specific content.

Group similar items under their respective umbrella categories such as:

Comparative analysis

First, analyze each umbrella category, creating a side-by-side comparison of each item that falls under it. This wider view analysis can help you understand whether your audience is changing its behavior with your tactics, distribution platforms, formats, etc.

In this simple example, you can see that both blog traffic and newsletter open rates declined between March 15 and March 22. That indicates the type of tactic likely didn’t affect the results.

But as blog traffic and newsletter open rates climbed back up and remained fairly steady, blog traffic was sustained at a lower level than the newsletter open rate. At that point, the content marketing team could explore why the newsletter was more popular than overall blog traffic. Why is the subscribed audience valuing the brand’s content more than all blog visitors? Are search volumes down for the blog topics? While you can’t figure out every reason, you can make informed assumptions.

This example looks at preferred formats – video vs. podcast. As you can see, podcast was the more popular format in the beginning of the month. At that time, both listenership and viewership were declining at a similar rate. But on March 25, video viewers surpassed podcast listeners. And video continued to grow as podcast declined.

In analyzing these results, the content marketing team might conclude that many of their podcast listeners must have played them during their commutes – which they are no longer doing. They then could explore why video was doing better than it was before COVID-19. They could devote more resources or promotion into their videos and simply maintain the podcast for the coming weeks. By watching the numbers regularly, they can see when commutes become the norm again and how that affects the podcast numbers.

Going through this process for your tactics, distribution platforms, formats, etc., you can identify the optimal choices for your audience’s current behavior.

Investigate each item

Sometimes the comparative analysis isn’t enough. You can’t clearly interpret the independent patterns of each item in the category. When this occurs, you should do an individual analysis.

Looking at each tactic from the simple example I first shared, you can see a precipitous drop in the first week. Then traffic experiences a sharp rise followed by a small decline. Traffic stabilizes except for two days (March 28 and 31). (We’ll tackle the spikes in the next step.) But the overall flatter line could indicate the blog traffic’s new normal.

By repeating this process weekly, you can better understand the day-to-day and week-to-week trends and be able to pivot more quickly and effectively.

2. What content is your audience consuming?

Now that you know your audience’s behavior patterns, you can dig deeper into the metrics to analyze reaction to the content subject matter.

To do this, marry your content calendar with your analytics reports. Then you can explore which primary topics, subtopics, keywords, subject lines, etc. resonate best with your audience regardless of publishing channel.

Marry your #content calendar with your analytics report to see what topics resonated, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Do you see one or two primary topics consistently get the most response? Is there a subtopic that got little to no interest? Which keywords were more popular than others?

Those trends will indicate an overall interest or lack thereof in your content topics – and should help inform your future content planning. Depending on your industry, you’ll likely see these interests change – and that’s why it’s important to evaluate them weekly.

Let’s look at a new faux example from a financial services firm. It has four primary topics for its blog – retirement planning, investments, taxes, and budgeting.

If the content marketing team looked at three weeks of data – March 15 to April 5 – it would conclude the audience responds best to the budgeting content and about equally to tax, retirement, and investment topics.

But when the content marketing team only looks at the more recent two weeks of blog traffic, it can see bigger differences among the topics. Budgeting still remains at the top, but interest in tax tips is greater than retirement planning. And investments get the least amount of traffic.

Armed with this information, the content marketing team can update its April and May content plans to de-emphasize investment topics, boost its budgeting content, and may consider increasing its tax content. As I mentioned, this analysis should be done with the necessary milestones noted. In this example, interest in tax tips may decline as the filing deadline was extended until July. That’s why it can be helpful to do this every week – to see how the audience’s content interests are evolving.

Keep on tracking

Of course, evaluating your metrics won’t do a lot of good if you’re not prepared to adjust your content marketing processes, creation, and promotion.

And those adjustments begin with a weekly conversation around the analytics. Start each content planning meeting noting any changes made the previous week, then look at the numbers and trends. Before you end the meeting, create a list of adjustments needed now and in the next month (i.e., the content action plan), and note any potential changes that should be considered at the next meeting.

Once you make this metrics analysis a regular weekly routine, you’ll find it easier to spot and react to trends to deliver the content your audience is likely to want in a way they’re likely to consume it.

This process also can help enhance the content marketing team’s credibility within your organization. You’ll differentiate yourselves from all those who blame the pandemic for poor numbers.

It’s OK if your numbers are down – that won’t come as a surprise. What will be a surprise is your thoughtful process, based on real numbers, to monitor how well content marketing has been delivering and how it can adapt to deliver better now and down the road.

Stay connected with us to get a mix of content marketing advice, help, and insight to help you and your brands weather this short- and long-term new normal. Subscribe to the newsletter. Join us at noon U.S. EDT Tuesdays for #CMWorld Twitter chats. And browse the list of COVID-19 resources for content marketers we’ve created and compiled. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute