Agency Focus- How Content Marketing is Changing, & How to Measure It

When it comes to content marketing, art + science = measurable success.

Since you’re reading this blog post, you probably know the importance of content marketing, and getting the right content to the right person at exactly the right time.

Apparently, though, few of us are very good at content marketing yet.

According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), only 38% percent of B2C marketers say their organizations are effective at content marketing, and only 30% of B2B marketers say they’re effective at content marketing.

Agency leaders agree. Only 67% of those responding in a recent Mirren-RSW survey were even ‘Satisfied’ with their content development efforts.

What Do We Do When We’re Not Very Good? Invest.

Businesses and agencies of all types and sizes are investing in content marketing.

In the fourth annual U.S. 2016 New Business Tools Annual Report from Mirren-RSW, more than 200 agency executives weighed in on the most important business tools to support and grow their businesses.

Content development was in the top three, which were:
1. Social Media Tools – participation in channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
2. Meeting/Web Conferencing Software – GoToMeeting, Skype, Cisco’s WebEx, etc.
3. Content Development Tools – these “tools” include freelance writers, writer marketplaces such as WriterAccess, video creation marketplaces such as Wooshii, etc.

A new Incite Group State of Marketing Report 2016 survey of more than 1,000 corporate marketing professionals from around the world found:

  • 53% of respondents named content marketing their ‘Essential’ focus for 2016
  • 77% of corporate marketers called content marketing an ‘Important’ or ‘Essential’ priority

And while 78% of the Incite survey respondents reported Content Marketing benefits them by engaging their customers, only 25% thought their business benefited financially by content driving revenue.

The Gartner Group has predicted that by 2020 (just three and a half years away), customers will manage 85% of their vendor relationships without ever interacting with a human.

So our content investments better start paying off in a big hurry. Effective content is so critical in the right context, aimed at the right audience, at every stage of the buying cycle.

Whether you’re using content to build your brand’s thought leadership, or enticing prospects to consider your (or your clients’) products or services, it’s high time for a real focus on content and, as importantly, accurate content attribution to drive results.

This post offers practical and technical tips for improving your content marketing.

Are We Investing in the Right Kinds of Content?

Gartner also predicts that by 2018, 20% of ‘business content’ will be authored by machines. ‘Business content’ is defined by Garter as “shareholder reports, legal documents, market reports, press releases, articles and white papers.” (Emphasis mine.) All, they say, are candidates for automated writing tools.

Let me rephrase: within two years, machines could author 20% of all business content.

IMO, machines can knock themselves out on legal documents and shareholder reports. It might even be nice to have them write market reports. But press releases, articles, and white papers? That’s more than a little scary, especially as we work to improve our content quality and track its effectiveness.

Couple the rise of machines with the emergence of startups like Growth Geeks, who match “digital marketing expert” freelancers with early- and growth-stage businesses. These freelancers will develop “Gigs” like Monthly Infographics for $149 and 1,000 Words for Any Use for $169. I’ve seen some of their work, and recommend you have a strong quality control process, or you’re likely to get exactly what you pay for. (And be sure to factor in the time and money that quality control process adds to the price of that content. Is it really such a bargain?)

The Art: Four Elements of Great Content

Great content attracts, educates, entertains, and moves to action. Great content can establish a brand, protect relationships, deliver new and recurring revenue, and retain customers. Great content compels consumers to consider, buy, use, and evangelize products.

Let’s look at the elements of great content.

In an admittedly ironic twist, I’m going to reference a recent Atomic Reach Blog Content Performance Report to explore the elements of great content. Atomic Reach is a machine-learning platform that analyzes the influence of text structure and use of language on digital audience readership.

Machines, while not remotely good at creating original content, IMO, can be fabulous at quantifying what makes content great – based on people’s engagement with great content.

In their study of exactly what makes high-quality content, Atomic Reach found four essential elements:

1. Language

Audience readability is key. Knowing exactly who they are and what they know will help you strike the right language, tone, and vocabulary needed to engage them.

2. Structure

There are common structural elements within content that are foundations of high quality content. Elements like Paragraph Density, Sentence Count, and Word Count all need to be leveraged appropriately.

3. Headlines

Your content headline is the most crucial element for increasing visibility and shares. Headline optimization involves Character Counts, Emotion, Keywords, Questions, Numbers, etc. and your headline should connect immediately with your audience as they explore.

4. Timing

The best time to distribute your content on social media depends on the channel and your audiences’ readability level. Every social media channel has a peak time. Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg, explains that peak time for sharing on Facebook is at 1:00 p.m. whereas on Twitter, it’s at 12:00 p.m. And Atomic Reach reported that financial services content unexpectedly performs better at a lower readability level, while parenting articles perform better when written for a more advanced audience. Optimizing distribution – from a timing structure that’s unique to every channel and sentence complexity tuned to your audience – is essential to maximizing results.

I encourage you to explore the Atomic Reach report. It’s full of excellent and very current (circa mid-2016) information. Other great content marketing resources:

And whether you’re distributing your content on social channels or your blog, or you are crafting content for others, critically review your headline, your readers’ needs, their points in the marketing funnel, and always ensure you’re adding value – via great content – every step of the way.

The Science: Attributing and Sharing Content Success

Your client only cares about three things, according to Joe Pulizzi at the Content Marketing Institute:

  • Is the content driving sales?
  • Is the content saving costs?
  • Is the content making our customers happier, thus helping with retention?

Proper content attribution can help answer those questions, as well as this very important question about attribution:

Which of my content marketing tactics are driving results, on which channels?

Attributing and Sharing Content Success

Yet Another Challenge for Us All…

Apparently, though, not many of us are very good at even the simplest of content attribution, either.

While 30% of marketing leadership is absolutely convinced of the value of attribution, the Content Marketing Institute reports that 33% of B2B marketers and 41% of B2C marketers cited the inability to measure as a Significant Challenge.

Meanwhile, Google notes that although more than 90% of marketers have advanced attribution analytics available to them, only slightly more than half are taking advantage of them.

I’m not going to delve deeply into the opportunities for multi-touch or advanced attribution models here, but know that your GA and MA platform should provide you reporting and analytics that will set you and your clients up for success.

Get Started! Simple Content Attribution Enhances Reporting

Let’s focus on the most simple content attribution tools – UTM codes and Google Analytics – to support your content tracking efforts. Implementing these two tools will help you track, measure, and report on the success of your content.

If you build smart URLs with UTM codes using consistent formulas you’ll be able to see exactly which content, and from which channel, your content is being shared, sending traffic to your website, and converting to leads, opportunities, and sales.

Anatomy of a UTM Code:

A UTM (short for the charming “Urchin Traffic Monitor”) code is a simple code that you can attach to a URL in order to track your content’s source (e.g. Twitter), medium (e.g. paid, social, email) and campaign name (e.g. Q4_report, May2016_white_paper, buyers_checklist). This lets Google Analytics tell you exactly where searchers came from as well as exactly which campaign directed them to you.

Here’s an example of what a properly constructed UTM code would look like:

Breaking down the elements of a UTM code:

Your website URL – the page on which the content lives:

Campaign Source, Medium and Content – how your content is distributed:

?utm_source=twitter &utm_medium=social &utm_content=cheat_sheet

Campaign Name – easily identifiable content, ideally with a date:


As you can see, pre-planning to set up and use UTM codes is critical. I recommend creating a spreadsheet of UTM codes you use for every piece of content you develop so you always have a source document to refer to when exploring Google Analytics for the best performing content, campaigns and media.

Five Steps to Building a URL with UTM Codes:

  1. Define a consistent naming convention for your client or agency. Deviating from your naming convention will skew your data! For example, utm_source=twitter and utm_source=twt will be counted separately
  2. Always use lowercase when creating your UTM conventions
  3. Name your campaigns so they’re easily identified, and add dates, especially for content you update occasionally
  4. Use Google’s free URL code builder to build UTM codes.
  5. Use a tool like io to shorten the URL (for Twitter, for example) and retain all the UTM data in Google Analytics

You’ll find your UTM data in Google Analytics under Reporting > Acquisition > Campaigns. The data will look something like this:

Google Analytics UTM

Once you’ve crafted fine content, and set up even the most simple attribution models to report on the success of each piece of that fine content in driving interest back to your clients’ website, you’ll find your investments in content easy to quantify and justify.

Agencies and marketers alike should leverage technology to manage the tedium of right offer, right place, right time; freeing their content teams to be strategic, creative, effective and (importantly) increasingly measurable.

Let’s use art and science to justify the investment of the time, money, and creative effort it takes to design and build – and measure and report – on great content.