1. Use Your Data
The Information Age has given marketers, businesses, and content creators unprecedented access to data about their customers. But while these statistics make for beautiful pie charts and bar graphs, failing to “interpret the tea leaves” effectively means wasted time and effort for both analysts and writers.
First and foremost, take a look at your data from all available sources. If you use Buffer, check the social media impact to determine whether you are utilizing the correct channels for distribution. If you use Google Webmaster Tools, take a look at your unique visitors and pageviews per visit to determine whether your content is keeping customers around. Even something as simple as blog comments can help determine whether your content is engaging your audience.
Be careful and consider how data reflects progress toward your goals. Avoid depending on “vanity metrics” such as Twitter followers and Facebook likes. If your goal is to engage customers, then the click of a button isn’t going to cut it. On the other hand, statistics such as the ratio of tweets to retweets can demonstrate whether or not your content is getting passed on. Just keep in mind that every number has a story, and some stories have more to teach.
2. Look for the “Golden Thread”
Content marketing itself is only as good as its ability to extend value to customers, but determining if that value was delivered to the right people in the right way can be tricky. Tim Riches at Futurebrand recommends looking for the “golden thread”: the connection of “business objective, consumer insight, marketing strategy, creativity, execution, and results”.
Each component of the thread is critical to content effectiveness. Paramount to all other considerations, your content should further your business’ objectives. Well-written content that fails to further progress toward your core goals is wasted effort. Getting this information into the right hands gives information traction, and for that reason utilization of insights regarding customers should be standard practice. These same consumers need to be able to identify your content with your brand, so observe your marketing strategy when crafting materials. But these factors matter little if the content does not have staying power. For that reason creative, well-written content should comprise the core of your efforts.
The golden thread is less tangible than hard data, but the results are no less concrete. When reviewing content, run through the checklist and pose each item as a question, e.g. “does our content creatively engage the right audience with the intent of accomplishing our objectives?” Answering “yes” to this question means you are on the right track.
3. Examine Context
Even if your strategy meets these criteria, your metrics may not reflect progress. This can be disheartening for anyone passionate about their business, but don’t panic—there’s more at play than your blog posts. Our businesses exist, for better or worse, in a larger world with circumstances beyond our control and this must be taken into account.
Tim Riches also mentions an instance in which a national tourism effort measured its effectiveness by looking at raw data alone. But this data, when understood in context, tells a different story. While the agency was busy popping bottles over their marketing prowess, tourists flooding the gates of three brand new tourist attractions, opened in the same period as the campaign, would reveal that not all the credit lay with the campaign itself.
This perspective can help avoid drastic changes in content efforts and spur innovation when complacency might be tempting. Ultimately, while your content is affecting customers in some way, not acknowledging the greater picture at work can result in poor insights and misdirected decisions. Your “10 tips for aspiring dog groomers” may be objectively brilliant, but in a world with robot dog groomers who do the job twice as fast for half the price, it can appear to be a failure. Rely on your knowledge and talents and keep circumstances, both in and out of your control, in mind.
4. Ask Your Readers
Until telepathy is ubiquitous, marketing will continue to rely on research for its insights. Content marketing is not immune to this fact. While click-throughs and pageviews can provide a sort of silhouette of the typical reader, the most poignant insights can be found in the words of customers themselves.
Researching your readers’ predilections can come in myriad forms, but simply asking for feedback is the first step. The Internet has provided passionate (and, sometimes, unhappy) customers with the unique opportunity to voice their feedback in very public ways. The trick is providing customers with that opportunity to respond. Ask and ye shall receive valuable information, both positive and constructive.
5. Take a Look at Links
At the end of the day, the Internet is nothing more than an enormous collection of links. Links are the currency of the Internet, bolstering Google cred and spreading information in dynamic ways. For this reason, linkages, especially those from prominent community voices, should be examined and valued.
Consider the context of these links and what they mean for your content. Links have the unique ability to further your reach and improve or hinder your reception simply by association. Appearing on a list of top-10 fails is obviously counter-productive, but one mention on a prominent community website can mean the difference between no traffic and a flood of hits. If you’re lost, just ask yourself, “is our content appearing where we want it to?” One popular strategy is to look at the readership of places you’d like to appear, and tailor your content to attract their attention. After all, good content doesn’t go unnoticed forever, especially if you’re aiming at the right targets.
Each of these tools can go a long way in tailoring content strategy, but keep in mind, no one has ESP. John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” And truth be told, we may never be able to identify every single wasted dollar. But with a little bit of information, some thoughtful consideration, and a dash of powerful knowledge, we can get pretty darn close.