There are many things that go into a strong content strategy. (See our rundown of everything yours should include if you’re starting from scratch.) From your objectives to your editorial calendar, each element plays an important role, but the most important thing you need is a way to make sure that your content strategy is actually working. There is nothing more frustrating than sinking time, energy, budget, and resources into something that doesn’t move the needle, which is why metrics are so crucial to a successful content strategy.
Why Metrics Strengthen Your Content Strategy
Choosing the right metrics, digging into the numbers, and reporting those insights is the best way to craft a strong strategy and keep your sanity. Why?
- Metrics give you benchmarks. To track your success, you need to know where you’re starting and where you want to go. Looking at the data is the only way to determine both.
- Metrics help you justify creative decisions. Getting buy-in from your team, especially your more analytical or risk-averse stakeholders, can be a challenge. With data behind you, you can always defend your creative decisions. Note that this doesn’t always mean you need perfect justification for your decisions—you should always leave room for experimentation. But it’s important to know when you’re going out on a limb versus playing it safe so you can balance your risk-taking.
- Metrics help you demonstrate ROI. For every marketer, ROI is what it’s all about. Whether you need to demonstrate your success or justify more budget, having the numbers on hand will help you make your case.
But how do you go about getting those numbers, and how do you use them to shape a strong (but flexible) strategy? To help you make sure you’re incorporating metrics into your strategy the right way, follow this simple 3-step process.
Step 1: Determine How You’ll Measure
Before you set up any analytics or dive into your historical data, you need to identify how you will measure your success. Start by phrasing your objective as a question. What is it, no matter how ambitious or abstract, that you’re looking to achieve with content?
From there, consider the various ways you might prove how your objective can be identified. Often, there’s no one metric to measure your objective perfectly. If you’re looking for more engagement from current customers, you might track time on site or email opens. (Likely, it’s both.)
It’s typical that you’ll have a confluence of various KPIs that you and your team will need to analyze in a dashboard view. If possible, work with your data analysis team over time to correlate KPI with your broader business goals, like revenue, in order to isolate your most important metrics.
Of course, you’ll need a plan for tracking these metrics, in case your current tech stack doesn’t capture them or doesn’t do it well.
Step 2: Measure All Steps of the Journey/Pipeline
Your buyer’s journey doesn’t start and stop with your web traffic. You need to have a bird’s eye view of the entire ecosystem, how your content plays a role at each stage, and how you can optimize it to be more effective. According to a 2017 report by DemandGen, 32% of marketers list “Pipeline Impact” as the primary metric they will be measured on, the top result of the survey. For that reason, defining metrics at every stage is crucial. But to choose the right metrics, you need to take a granular look at your journey.
Start by building marketing personas. To get a solid understanding of the people you’re trying to reach, take a deep dive into who they are, what they care about, what problems they face, what platforms they frequent, etc. By building personas, you can identify and document what your prospects like to learn about and consume, as well as how they engage in the buying process. Follow our step-by-step guide to crafting strong personas if you haven’t done this yet.
Identify your channels. Due to the segmentation of niche audiences, content strategy is shifting from audience-first messaging to channel-first thinking. Your job is to determine where people are, how to reach them through those channels, and, of course, how to best measure that. (This is also an opportunity to conduct competitive research on how your competition is using these channels.)
Determine your metrics. Knowing your goals, your personas, and your desired channels, choose the most relevant metrics to help you gauge your success. Remember that these should cover every stage of the buyer’s journey. Below are some boilerplate metrics we use as a starting point for connecting journey goals with measurable metrics.
- Publication pickup
- Social content metrics
- Organic traffic (SEO)
- Brand indexes/surveys
- Social sentiment
- Time on site
- Lead gen rate
- Leads (not yet qualified)
- Qualified leads
- Satisfaction and advocacy:
- Product usage
- Customer review scores
- Product registrations
- Account renewals
- Product return rate
- Social fans/follows
Craft your hypotheses to test. What do you expect to happen, and why? A strategy is never foolproof; at the end of the day, your approach is the result of humans (with the support of robots, for now) taking best guesses as to how certain goals can be reached.
By taking a page from the scientific method and documenting your hypotheses, their supporting data, and their underlying assumptions, you will learn a great deal more once your strategy is executed in the market. You can’t expect to be right about everything, but a hypothesis will at least give you clarity on where and why you went wrong (and right), and help you get smarter over time.
Step 3: Measure and Adjust
A strong content strategy provides structure and guidelines, as well as the flexibility to change along with your objectives or methods. As you begin to measure, you will get a stronger sense of what has and has not worked (and uncover a few surprises along the way). The key is to continue to refine your approach as you go.
Set up regular reporting. Don’t let your data die in spreadsheets. Create regular reports to dive into the data, extract interesting insights, and share with your team. Monthly formal reports are a fine way to start to be sure you don’t make rash decisions from small sample sizes. Many teams benefit from more informal weekly reporting check-ins as well, but keep the big picture front of mind.
Identify weaknesses, and brainstorm solutions. It’s OK if you’re struggling in one area. (Again, the whole point is to identify what does and doesn’t work.) With regular reporting, you can use your team to come up with better tactics or suggest new things.
Play to strengths, and test hypotheses for why certain things are working. In the same way that hypotheses are valuable for large, strategic-level decisions, they’re also a smart way to add precision to your conclusions. If you think a certain Facebook ad was effective because you used the color blue, test it out in your next campaign on a different topic.
Compare the efficacy of your marketing tactics. Consider how some tactics may help you in other areas—and what might be hurting you. For example, what’s your ROI for paid social versus event attendance or sponsorship? Be open to the idea that it’s not the channel that’s not working but how you’re using it.
Engage in conversations about rates vs quantities. A low cost per lead might not last forever for a certain tactic. Keep pushing the limitations of your conclusions by investing more in what’s working and watching for diminishing returns. The results might give you an idea of your overall market size, a convenient business-intelligence byproduct of content marketing. Of course, maybe this is simply the point at which your message/campaign has run its course.
Look for opportunities to invest more. If you’re seeing major progress in one area, consider doubling down. Again, one of the biggest advantage of reporting (and a content strategy in general) is the ability to see your entire content ecosystem and make better economic choices. The more success you have, the more effective your tactics. These tactics may be translated across your strategy.
Remember: Your Content Strategy Isn’t Set in Stone
A content strategy is a useful guide, but don’t be too precious with it. You can—and should—continue to adjust, edit, and refine based on changing objectives or results. Content marketing moves quickly, so you may find that something that worked just a few months ago isn’t as effective (or vice versa). The most important thing is to continue to monitor your progress and make your decisions informed by strong data.
For more tips on creating more successful content marketing, check out the 10 content strategy lessons we learned the hard way to avoid making the same mistakes.