Back in 2008, Seth Godin declared that “content marketing is all the marketing that’s left.” 11 years later, it looks like he was right. Content marketing is bigger than ever, and while outbound marketing like TV is still where the biggest money is going, it’s clear that even the big companies need to be supplementing their outbound marketing with inbound and content marketing as well.
This is good news and bad news. On the one hand, it means that all us content marketers have been doing something right — focusing more on useful, informative, relevant content for the users that want to find it than on splashing our logos on every surface we can. On the other, it means that content marketing, in and of itself, isn’t a strategy any more.
You can’t just throw together a blog, a Facebook page, a few landing pages, and wait for the leads to roll in. You need to be constantly adjusting and refining the content you wrote, where you publish it, and who you tailor it to. And you can’t adjust without feedback. In order to adopt a winning strategy, you need to know what’s working. Here’s what to look for.
You’re Attracting All The Right People
Part of the reason that outbound or interruptive marketing is so inefficient — and thus falling out of vogue — is that you can’t really tell who’s seeing it. You put an ad on TV or in a magazine and other than some rough demographics from that outlet’s media kit, you really can’t tell who’s noticing the ad. Worse yet, you can’t tell if any of those people are actually buying after seeing the ads.
With inbound marketing, you can tailor your content to precisely the people who fit your buyer persona — a buyer persona is a fictionalized version of your perfect customer, and we consider it one of the most important aspects of a marketing strategy. With a buyer persona, you can write specific content and choose the format, language, and channels, all to fit this one (potentially very narrow) group of people.
If you’re doing it right, you should notice that the statistics you use to judge your campaigns — conversions, signups, site visits, downloads, or whatever you’re prioritizing — go up. Why? Because the right people are seeing your stuff.
If you were selling lawn mowers, wouldn’t it be great if you could avoid spending a penny on marketing to people who don’t have lawns? That’s essentially what you’re doing with buyer personas and targeted marketing. Modern tools allow you to set up your SEO, audiences, email lists, social media, and more so that you’re getting your targeted content in front of the people who actually want to see it — and no one else.
Your Content is Getting Interacted With
Writing great content is only the first step to getting the word out there. The next step is getting people to engage with it. It’s true that sharing is somewhat of a vanity metric — shares don’t make you any money. But that doesn’t mean that engagement isn’t worth paying attention to.
If people are engaging with your blogs, social posts, landing pages, or premium content, it means that they didn’t just click on it and move on — they actually found it useful. They thought it stood out from the hundreds of other pieces they’ve read this week. They lingered on the page, clicked through to another blog, or downloaded a whitepaper.
One reason that content doesn’t get shared is because it’s too much of a pain in the butt to share it in the first place. Copying and pasting a link, especially on mobile, is more work than a lot of people to want to do. Make sure your content has easy-to-see sharing tools alongside the text.
But the other reason that your content might not be getting shared is that it’s simply not up to snuff. Focus more on quality than quantity. Think long and hard about how many polished, high-quality blogs you can realistically put out every month, and don’t push it. Write about things that your customers actually want to hear, not just whatever’s trending on the internet at the moment. And don’t be afraid to admit that you simply don’t have anything new to say on a given subject.
Your Visitors Are Becoming Leads
Your web traffic numbers might look great — lots of people visiting your site from different channels, spending a good amount of time on site, reading several pages before bouncing, and even sharing your content with their friends on other sites. But are they making you any money?
As much as we want content marketing to be about providing genuinely useful and timely information to the people that need it, that strategy is only sustainable if you’re turning those visitors into leads. If you’re not, you’ll eventually fizzle out.
One thing to keep an eye on is your landing pages or conversion points. We tend to think of a landing page as a pretty minor part of the process — after all, if someone clicked on a social link or a call-to-action at the bottom of a blog post, they must already be interested, right? — but the landing page can make or break an interaction.
When you ask a customer for information in exchange for a whitepaper or ebook, think about it from their perspective. How much information are you trying to get out of them? Is the information personal? Are the questions easy to answer or are they going to have to go ask someone?
It’s a delicate balance — if you only ask for an email address, you won’t have any useful information about your lead to inform your selling strategy. If you ask for the person’s job title, company size, location, annual income, and favorite season of Friday Night Lights, you’ll have a lot of information to work with, but you might lose leads right off the bat.
Err on the simple side. Get a name, email address, and maybe some basic information about their company or industry. Try to infer what you can about them by the pages they’ve visited and the content they’ve downloaded. Your sales team can take it from there.
You’re Monitoring the Right Metrics
There are, for all intents and purposes, infinite metrics you can be paying attention to when it comes to your marketing efforts, especially when it comes to content marketing. You should be able to generate reports for sales, leads, customer lifetime value, customer acquisition cost, traffic to lead ratio, MQL to SQL ratio, website traffic, downloads, shares, social likes, and so on and so on.
We’ve all heard the saying, “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics,” and that’s no less true when it comes to marketing. If you squint, you can get attractive numbers out of almost any campaign. But which of those numbers actually matter?
Instead of looking at the numbers and trying to determine if each graph is showing something you want to see, start with the problem you’re trying to solve and the goal you’re working to achieve, then assign numbers to that. Keep your focus on those particular KPIs throughout the campaign and judge your efforts accordingly.
What does that look like? Here are some examples.
- If you have hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans, but very little of your website traffic is coming through from Facebook, you have an engagement problem. Direct your marketing team toward producing more click-worthy content and getting that content to the right segments of your Facebook audience.
- If you have tons of website traffic, but aren’t generating leads, pay attention to bounce rate, time on site, number of pages viewed, which pages are your highest conversion points, and returning traffic. If you’re having issues there, the content being created is either bringing in the wrong audience or isn’t doing a good job of leading people through the buyer's journey.
- If your emails are getting opened, but no one’s continuing to your website, your clickthrough rate needs improvement. An email campaign can be an extremely useful driver of traffic and conversions, so don’t give up on it. Evaluate if the content in the email is click worthy to the buyer persona(s) it’s being sent to, and make sure your lists are properly segmented. After all, you wouldn’t have the same conversation with your grandmother as you would a work buddy.
Marketing is a moving target — it feels like there are new channels, new strategies, and new ideas every time you turn around. But if there’s one thing we know is true, it’s that content marketing isn’t going away any time soon. If you want to make sure that your marketing is effective, you’ll need to keep a close eye on it.