How To Determine ‘Success’ For a Piece of Content: The Basics
Start By Defining ‘Success’
Ironing out goals for your content may seem like the obvious first step in the creation process. However, consider that many businesses are just now coming around to the fact that they even need quality content in the first place. In fact, roughly 70% of marketers lack a consistent or integrated content strategy, and it’s not out of the question to assume that some may have no strategy at all. So, if you’re new to the content game, your attitude might simply be “Hey, we’re producing content with relevant SEO keywords. We’re announcing stuff on the blog. What else is there?”
Well, that’s certainly a start, but with each piece of content you produce (or plan on producing), ask yourself, “In a perfect world, what would I have this piece do for me?” Are you looking for more traffic, engagement, or time on site? Increased customer retention? Perhaps your goal is brand awareness, higher search rankings, or more email signups. Maybe you want to be considered a thought leader in your field. These are all noble pursuits, but no single piece of content will help you accomplish all of your goals.
So for starters, think about putting each piece of content into a different bucket based on your unique goals, or even creating a content schedule that strictly aligns with your business objectives. That way you can say, “Okay, these pieces are all contributing to SEO and search rankings, while these other pieces are trying to push people to our sales page.” That alone is a huge first step. Just know that each piece of content might serve a different purpose, so try to be purposeful when creating your content agenda. And finally, remember that ROI won’t always be measured in dollar signs.
Decide What You Want To Measure and Find the Tools
Speaking of dollar signs, in a recent study, CMOs at the largest tech companies reported that content marketing was their second most important initiative, behind only one thing - you guessed it: measuring ROI. So, although we’ve all heard the phrase “content is king,” it appears as if big data has usurped the throne. However, we argue that the two go hand in hand. Because if you can’t measure the success of your content, how will you iterate and adjust your strategy? And if you aren’t producing content, what will you measure to begin with?
By deciding what exactly you’re trying to measure, you can start to get much more specific in your content goal-setting. For example, if you’re blogging to increase visits to your sales page, zoom in on that goal even further: how many visits exactly would you consider a success? Five more a day? 1,000 more by the end of six months? 10,000? Do these numbers sound realistic based on the number of posts you plan to produce, or the resources you plan to put behind these goals?
Finally, you’ll need to find the tools to measure your progress, which, honestly, is the easy part, especially if you’re a small business, freelancer, or solo entrepreneur. You can always get free Google analytics, social media data, and LinkedIn stats. Plus, if you’re hosting your site on a platform like Squarespace, Wix, or Wordpress, they all offer free analytics of some sort. For example, we use Squarespace and are able to measure all kinds of things, from individual page views and unique visitors to RSS subscribers, traffic sources and more. They also provide a ton of ecommerce stats if your ultimate goal is sales. The point is, you can run lean and easily measure your content analytics for free, so there’s really no excuse. (And if your needs go beyond that, you can always pay for more advanced analytics. Here are a few apps to consider.)
Predict When You Expect To See Results
Here’s the rub with content marketing: it can often take much longer to see results than your typical Facebook or Google ad, but the ROI can be astronomically higher in the end. Successful pieces of content have the ability to go viral, and even if they don't, those pieces can still generate leads and revenue years down the line (read: evergreen content), whereas your typical Facebook or Google ad might generate a few leads then quickly fizzle out.
With traditional advertising, there are also a finite number of leads you can generate. Spend $10,000 on a Facebook ad campaign and yes, you might get a significant number of sales. But once the money’s in and the ads have run, your time is up. Your only move is to spend more money on more ads. Now, imagine if you spent that $10,000 over the course of the year developing content that is useful, well-written, and packed with rich keywords that Google’s spiders get off on. You might not see as many sales right away, and your pieces might not be going viral, but those pieces can continue to work for you as long as you’re in business. And you never know who might share your article.
Content marketing is a long game, and not everyone has the patience to do it right, which is understandable given that delayed gratification is one of the hardest things to master. All too often, we take the first marshmallow offered to us, because the quick fix feels much better than the long-term investment. But just know that one perfectly-placed piece of content can completely change your business. It’s often not a matter of if, but when.
Calculate How Much You’re Willing To Invest, Then Do It!
Here’s an interesting stat: Most brands spend about 25% - 43% of their marketing budget on content, yet only 23% of CMOs feel that they’re producing the right information for the right audience at the right time and in the correct format. The lesson? If you’re going to invest in content, be smart about it.
That word ‘investment’ is also very important. Once you start thinking of content in that sense, you might feel better about the whole situation. And a rule of thumb when investing is this: don’t risk more than you’re willing to lose. So think, how much of your budget (if you have one) would you be willing to devote to content without seeing returns? Come up with that number and stick to it. Again, you’re playing the long game here, so knowing your risk appetite up front will help you stay confident in your decisions, even if you’re not seeing returns as soon as you’d hoped.
Another smart way to invest in content is to do it right the first time. Like most anything else, you get what you pay for. If you’re using a content mill or a cheap freelancer site, you’re probably going to get just that: cheap, manufactured content. Don’t go down that road. There are plenty of other options. For example, you could write the pieces yourself and just find a trusted copyeditor to clean them up. You could use in-house writers to tackle the easier posts (announcements, product launches, awards, etc), and outsource the more important evergreen pieces to boutique writers. And yes, you could even hire us. (Come on, you knew that was coming.)
Okay, But What If It Doesn’t Work?
Consider this case study about Unbounce from the book Traction (a must read): they were receiving less than 800 monthly visits after six consistent months of producing quality, well-written content. They could’ve given up, but fortunately they kept at it, and after a while, they grew to 20,000 monthly visitors. And if you don't believe us when it comes to content marketing, listen to Unbounce’s CEO, Rick Perreault (again from Traction):
“If we had not started blogging at the beginning the way we did, Unbounce would not be here today…Our content still drives customers. Something we wrote in January 2010 still drives customers today. Whereas if I had spent money on advertising in January, that’s it. That money is spent. If you invest in content, it gets picked up by Google. People find it, they share it, and it refers customers almost indefinitely…Our blog is the centerpiece of all our marketing.”
Well said, Rick. The last thing we’ll mention from Traction is this quote from the authors, Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares: “Having a strong company blog can positively impact at least eight other traction channels - SEO, publicity, email marketing, targeting blogs, community building, offline events, existing platforms, and business development.”
You can always pivot, but if you feel confident in your strategy, stick it out and keep going. Jeff Goins wrote that when he blogged every day for a year, he gained only 70 subscribers in the first six months. The next six months? 10,000. You just never know.
Off You Go Then!
Don't be intimidated by content. Have a plan. Create a content schedule, then stick to it, even if it’s just month-by-month or week-by-week. Be realistic about your goals. Think of your content as an investment in your business, with long-term gains that you might not be able to predict or measure just yet. And use the Lean Startup method! What content do you truly need? Who is essential to get it done? What can you DIY, and what should you leave to the professionals?
Finally, remember to have FUN once in a while. Not every piece needs to have a “business objective.” That might seem contradictory to everything we’ve just said, but business can be so damn stuffy sometimes. Don’t be afraid to play on your blog a bit. It’s great to inform, and even better to inspire. But if you can do both while also providing a bit of entertainment, you’ve struck content gold.