Internet marketing over the past 15 to 20 years has seen fads come and go. We’ve had keyword stuffing, directory link building, article marketing, widgets, blogging, guest-posting and infographics. Today’s prefered promotional method ‘content marketing’.
Over time the general trend has been to improve your business’s online visibility by employing methods that ever-increasing utility to the users. Keyword stuffing offered no utility to users – it neither made them more knowledgeable about your market or your company. Guest-posting generally offered no-to-little utility to users, whilst infographics in the main were poorly-crafted; on occasion they were useful and interesting. Now we have come to the point where ‘content writing’ aims to provide unrivalled usefulness to users. It has become a marketing method that has caught the attention of everyone from the trainee SEO to marketing directors and beyond.
But just how successful is content marketing?
If we look at each of the methods above derided above, they can actually offer value if implemented correctly.
One of the mistakes that content marketers and their bosses make is simply look at how much traffic they’re getting to the site as a whole or even sections and come to rash conclusions about the effectiveness of writing content, instead of logically considering the correct metrics to use for a reasoned evaluation.
So whether you’re looking to hire a content marketer or are adding content to your website yourself you do need to look at Analytics data to establish whether your time and budget could be better spent on other marketing methods, if tweaking your strategy will deliver the sales you require, or you’re on the right track.
Here are our tips to evaluate your current ‘content writing’ strategies:
£ value returned
Often we’ve seen website owners state that ‘x’ piece of content has generated 20,000 extra visits over a month. My reply has always been ‘but how many sales did it generate and what was the revenue?’
It is easy to ‘newsjack’ (create content on a current item in the news’ and then generate no sales. One example that comes to mind is with the death of Nelson Mandela where an educational course provider published a blog post about his contribution to the world. The article got a lot of traffic, and no sales resulted from it and no links. Also there was also no noticeable improvement in social follower metrics. This article cost the company staff time to craft and publish – but added no value.
You can easily establish the £ value of any content written by using ‘filters‘ in Google Analytics to show your sales data for people that just came into specific sections of your website – for example your blog, or your FAQ section, tips, advice, commentary and the like – if they’re located in particular folders such as /blog/, /faq/, /tips/ etc. or if they have consistent parts to the URL such as /faqs-are-you-wasting-money .
When you’ve sent up a filter, assigning your particular section or part of URL as a ‘landing page’ then navigate to the ecommerce section of Google Analytics and view the amount of revenue these pages have delivered from inbound traffic. If over a month they have generated a fraction of the cost it took to generate them then you have an issue.
But do note, if the content is aimed at future events such as Christmas, Wimbledon, Elections and the like, then you will need to be more pragmatic
Google’s Page Value Metric
Another common mistake is to look at target keyword rankings. In the below example the page with 1,355 is #1 or #2in Google with a two-word keyword.
It, however, had produced next to no revenue over 15 months; it converts woefully and has a ‘Page Value’ of less than a penny and should either be reworked to improve the calls to action or just left.
This metric aims to offer a quick guide as to how much that page actually contributes to your total value. It is a measure of the total revenue accrued divided by the number of unique page views that page has had – only if that page was viewed during a successful purchase process.
If a content writer has done a good job then the page(s) they have written would have a high ‘Page Value’ compared to all other – non-transactional pages (cart, checkout).
It is, important to note, however, that this value can change due to factors outside of the content writer’s sphere of influence. In the above example Google decided to add a ‘knowledge graph‘ entry for the related keyword, and hence, those that were looking for information about this particular product found the information without clicking on any search results and hence, the Page Value is likely to have increased given that fewer visitors with informational intent would be visiting the page, and hopefully a greater proportion with transactional intent were.
There may be much wrong with this metric, but if you’re able to configure your tracking correctly it can give you a good metric of content marketing success which focuses more on the content writing and less on other factors such as changes in shipping policy, social proof during the check-out process, etc.
This metric aims to highlight the relevance of a page to a users’ search query if they came in via a search engine, or the utility of the page if visited from a referral or social media. Essentially the higher the ‘bounce rate’ the greater proportion of visitors just view this page and then return from whence they came. The idea of content writing is to engage with people and make them add products to their cart and transact, hence this metric can over a good ‘thumbnail sketch’ of the page’s utility.
An exception would be if your aim is for people to convert on the landing page – such as a newsletter sign-up or download eBook or pdf guide form.
Content writers aren’t only involved in the process of acquiring new customers in the form of keyword-targeted articles, but also reworking content within the sales funnel. Hence if you’ve got a particular page within the purchase or data capture process that you see has a high ‘exit rate‘ then you may like to rework the messaging to reduce that rate. Furthermore, there may also be pages that aren’t inherently in the desired purchase process but which people naturally view that also has a high exit rate then you should also seek a content writer’s input on them.
Great content writing turns mundane, functional content into ‘social winners’. Not only can you use URLprofiler to find your competitors best performing pages, but you can also do it for your own website. At the start of the month you should submit your site’s URLs and grab the social sharing metrics for each page. Highlighting the ones that your content writer has been involved with you will be able to ascertain the increase in social shares and, if you have been doing this for a few months then you should be able to see if the growth in social shares has accelerated or not.
One of the primary reasons for employing content writers is to craft content that will attract links – for their SEO benefit. There are many tools for recording the number of links a page has with a good free one being Open Site Explorer, whilst others include Majestic and Link Research Tools.
It should be obvious that your content writer should be crafting original content given that Google doesn’t like the reuse of content but often it can be difficult to quickly check if their content is substantially copied from elsewhere. However, PlagSpotter can be a useful tool in determining what proportion of a page is duplicated elsewhere.
Grammar and Spelling
Of course you should be assessing the grammar and spelling of your content writer – that is a given. However, for at least a decade the potential negative aspects of poor grammar as a ranking factor have been discussed even by Matt Cutts himself. You could also use ‘reading level scores‘ as a determinant of your content writers too. This score can quickly be analysed by URLProfiler and tracked over time.
Another metric that you could track over time is the frequency of spelling mistakes which can be found using Checkdog.
Number of Search Queries
Within Google Analytics and Search Console you can track the number of search queries that the website has shown up for in Google. This would give a quick (and dirty) indication of how expansive your content has become. A secondary goal should be to use expansive content to obtain data about related keywords that people are using and then find your website. Given that Google has hidden much of this data in analytics when it comes to defining conversion rates etc., you can still use Google’s find the keywords which your website is shown for and clicked on in the Search Console and Analytics tools.
Average Order Value
With a generally static list of products on your website and without changing shipping rates or free shipping levels or even cross-sell options, if you’re deploying content writing on product pages, and even supporting pages such as shopping cart information, then you should, hopefully, see an increase in the Average Order Value as you should be better engaging with customers and enthusing them to purchase more.
There are many metrics you can gauge the success of your content marketing depending on your particular objectives: links, traffic, social sharing, improving site ‘stickiness’, improving the scope of content, and, of course, increasing sales. You just need to make sure that you have clearly defined goals and choose the relevant metric.